Get wise to this French tradition
So you had an epiphany: Screw the resolution and eat cake. There’s this overarching American notion that after many weeks of holiday treats, meals, snacks, drinks, and revelry, it’s time for some personal austerity measures in the form of a no-fun diet. Thank goodness the French are just like “Non! Now is the time to double down on eating carbs, sugar, and fat.” On the day of Epiphany—the Christian celebration of the arrival of the Three Wise Men at the birthplace of the infant Jesus 12 days after Christmas—this seasonal indulgence comes in the form of Galette des Rois, and it sticks around in bakeries for the rest of the month.
Galette des Rois—named for the traveling trio—is a different sort of king cake from the frosted, gold, green, and purple sugar-dusted baked goods that are synonymous with Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, but it is at the center of a similar ritual. The NOLA version of king cake tends to be sweet, ring-shaped, and coffee-cake-like, often with a swirl of cinnamon inside, though flavored versions can indeed be found. The galette in question is a circular puff-pastry creation, layered with almond cream (and the occasional creative filling) and scored on top to create a design.
A Galette des Rois is elegant as hell, while its American cousin is gloriously garish, but both conceal a surprise inside in the form of a figurine (often in the shape of a baby or an animal), a hard bean, an almond, or a piece of dried fruit. The reveler who receives this gets to be “king” for the day—and in some traditions is on the hook for purchasing the cake for the next year’s celebration. It should be noted that it’s a good idea to warn guests who are unaware of the ritual that they should inspect each bite before chomping down lest they accidentally choke on a small, plastic child.
No reasonable human would look askance at you for picking up your Galette des Rois at a bakery, but should you feel compelled to make one of your own at home, the brilliant and home-baker-friendly cookbook author and blogger David Lebovitz has a Galette des Rois recipe on his website. If you’re a pastry whiz, feel free to exercise those skills, but Lebovitz’s recipe is perfectly suited to frozen puff pastry from the grocery store, and that’s a royal relief.