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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 21: galette des rois

I think many familiar with the gallic galette des rois might have predicted it would feature on my blog this week. Since I do so hate to disappoint, la voilà !

This delicious sweet pie-like treat is eaten on 6 January, or Epiphany. Here’s a great explanation of the tradition:

The galette des rois, celebrating Epiphany, the day the Three Kings (les rois) visited the infant Jesus, is baked throughout January in France. Composed of two circles of puff pastry sandwiching a frangipani filling, each comes with a crown and always has a trinket, called a fève, or bean, baked into it. It’s an invitation to gather, as much party game as pastry – if your slice has the fève, you get the crown and the right to be king or queen for the day.

Source: Dorie Greenspan, New York Times:

Whether making or buying your galette des rois, you’ll have a lot of choice - the world really is your oyster. There are more traditional options, quicker versions, or unusual flavourings, such as chocolate, and even savoury interlopers.

I opted for a traditional version, and chose not to take any shortcuts. My source recipe includes not only frangipane – an almond cream, made with ground almonds, sugar, butter, egg, and a touch of rum, and sometimes almond extract – but also the devilishly delicious crème pâtissière, or pastry cream. Many other recipes just include the frangipane, so this version was touted to be creamier.

Making life difficult for myself, I also decided to try my hand at puff pastry, or rather, a version of rough puff.


One galette is not like another

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d already made galette. Indeed I did. Towards the beginning of the challenge I made Breton Buckwheat galettes – savoury crêpes.

In fact, the word galette is incredibly versatile, and is used to refer to:

  • Biscuits

  • Crêpe made of buckwheat flour

  • In Belgium, a crispy wafer-like biscuit, as seen in this recipe or this Belgian store – sometimes referred to as galettes campinoises

  • Other types of flat ‘cakes’ formed of various foodstuffs – i.e. galette de riz (rice cake)

Actually, Wikipedia has a good explanation, including a Canadian variety which looks like an topless pie or tart.

Fortunately, you can normally distinguish the different types of galettes based on where you are, or who you’re talking to. The type at hand is often referred to by its full name of Galette des rois.

Not just any old bean – cultural references

As you will have learnt above, a key part of this treat is the fève hidden inside. It’s rather like the tradition of hiding a penny in your Christmas pudding. Fève itself actually means ‘fava bean’ and presumably a fava bean was used originally. Nowadays, small porcelain figurines or tokens are often used instead, although a bean can of course be substituted if you don’t have anything suitable.

Say fève in France, in the context of a galette, and everyone will know exactly what you’re talking about… In the UK, it’s unlikely. Since this tradition isn’t celebrated or well known here, I chose to expand in my translation, rendering ‘1 fève’ as ‘1 porcelain figurine or a bean’. I would also recommend including a short explanation, perhaps in the introduction, to let cooks know what it will be used for.

When I was baking, I was such a keen bean, making the pastry over a few hours, preparing the butter cream and almond cream, assembling everything, egg washing – then thinking, cool beans, in the oven you go. It was then that I thought, ‘Oh, you silly old bean, you forgot to add the fève.’

Picture of galette, all ready to go in the oven
My fève-less galette, all ready to go in the oven

Did I mention that the fève is an essential part of the galette des rois? Oh well, I feel like this is something every galette-baker has surely done before, right? Perhaps it’s a rite of passage.


The cooking process was fairly involved, given that I made the dubious decision to make my own pastry. Overall, I didn’t find it too difficult though. One challenge was knowing how much pastry to make, since my source recipe just called for ‘two rolls’ of pre-made pastry. But how much is in a standard roll in France? I looked at other recipes which gave more of a clue and settled on 500g.

The result looked and tasted pretty good, and I did get some lamination and layering. However, the pastry did leak a little butter, and it needed to be cooked longer really, and/or at a higher temperature? Or perhaps I should have used less pastry overall - It did seem like a lot… Well, at any rate, I won't be rushing to make my own puff pastry (rough or otherwise) anytime soon.

Picture of my galette once baked

Picture of my galette, ready to be eaten

Next week

Having enjoyed the galette des rois for afternoon tea this weekend gone, I was pretty stuffed, and needed a light and healthy meal to compensate. So next week's post will discuss that recipe.

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