06 January 2009

Having an Epiphany

Since the Middle Ages, the epiphany (January 6th -- also known as le jour des Rois) has been celebrated in France with the eating of the Twelth Night cake or Galette des Rois. (It is called as such in honor of the 3 Wisemen or Kings who came to witness the birth of Christ.) The Galette des Rois is made from puff pastry which is usually served plain or filled with frangipane - an almond-flavored paste.

The tradition has long been to bake a lucky charm (une fève) into the Galette. Originally it was a bean: a symbol of fertility. These days you can buy individual-sized galettes but they are most commonly sold as a larger cake meant to be eaten by a group of friends or family members. When the galette is served, usually the youngest guest (most often a child) crawls under the table so he or she can't see the cut pieces of cake and calls out to the server to whom each slice of cake should be given. In this way, the slice with the fève in it is given randomly to one of the guests. Whoever finds the charm in their slice of cake becomes "King" or "Queen" and back in the day, this person had to buy a round of drinks for all his or her companions. Those too stingy to buy a round of drinks very often swallowed the bean!

Towards the beginning of the 20th century, bakers started inserting lucky charms made of china so that they could no longer be easily swallowed! The charm can take any shape or form and these days, the designs have become very sophisticated. As with the Buche de Noel, many bakeries create their own signature piece fèves meant to be collector's items for the fèvophiles. I passed by La Maison de Chocolat this morning where they had adorable fèves shaped as mini eclairs, macarons and other pastries; Lenotre has partnered with Swarovski and the jeweler, Fred to offer crystal studded baubles in years past, and Pierre Hermé is doing a series of porcelain hearts this year that fit together to form a lucky four-leaf clover.

The first year we were here and I took part in a galette eating celebration, I thought the French must be out of their minds. I mean could you imagine a baker in the US knowingly hide a mini porcelain sculpture into a cake, baking it up and then selling it to the general public??? Talk about a potential choking hazard! Or an unfortunate way to shatter your new veneers. I can only imagine the litigations! Here is a photo of the fève that I have hidden away in one of my Galette de Rois cupcakes and you can see how very small it is in comparison to the spice bottle next to it. My advice to you if you eat a traditional Galette des Rois is to chew slowly and lightly! ;)

I've got a number of different cupcake projects going on this week (more about that later) and so since I was baking up a batch, I figured why not see if I could transform the Galette into a cupcake. They turned out pretty well and here's a recipe I picked up at Peter Kump's cooking school in NYC to make frangipane yourself.

4 ozs. almond paste
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 yolk
2 ozs. softened butter
3 tbsps. flour

1) Combine almond paste, sugar, egg and yolk in mixing bowl. Beat with paddle on medium speed until smooth.

2) Add butter in 3 additions; beat until light.

3) Lower mixer speed to low; beat in flour until absorbed.

Copyright (c) Nick Malgierie 1996, All Rights Reserved.

Use your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe as the batter (you could substitute almond extract for vanilla extract for those of you who are almond fans) and when you fill the cupcake tins, fill 1/3 batter, 1/3 frangipane and finish with 1/3 batter. You may need to cook them about 5 minutes longer than usual.

These bake up pretty dense and sweet so you may opt to leave them unfrosted. Or try just a plain buttercream with almonds sprinkled on top. Enjoy!


  1. You had me at "frangipane."

  2. Are you a frangipane fan? Was thinking of you when making that kir royale batch as you had suggested white chocolate and raspberries in the last challenge!

  3. This sounds absolutely delicious Cat! I think I'll do a baking project with the kids this weekend:) Thanks for posting the recipe

  4. These sound delicious! I was thinking of making frangipane macarons, but cupcakes seems like a nice variation as well.

    I like your frangipane recipe, different from what we're used to seeing in France, where it's often roughly 1/3 crème patissiere and 2/3 crème d'amandes--yours seems nice and quick!