Enter the Kings- Cakes that is! January 6 begins a month of cakes in my southwest corner of France and I didn’t want to miss out on the annual parade of rich delicious treats.
That’s right, we celebrate the coming of the Magi basically all month of January. It’s a generous outpouring of conviviality that includes singing a hearty “Bonne Année” to all the neighbors, postmen, pharmacists, grocery store clerks, etc that inhabit my French neighborhood. And with closer friends, it is common to bring a gâteau to share when invited for dinner, a drink, or a coffee. So while a Twelfth Night cake might marks the end of festivities of old, my Month of Cakes begins with the first Gâteaux des Rois Briochée- a buttery-soft, orange flower-scented, sugar-crusted brioche crown hiding a ceramic charm or fève for the lucky finder.
Throughout much of the Hexagone, the much beloved puff pastry and frangipane (ground almond and sugar) Galette des Rois is standard. But here in this tiny part of the world in Southwest France, we call that flaky king’s cake a '“Galette Parisienne” and it is, indeed, a much loved dessert. But you are more likely to find a Gâteau des Rois, a puffy brioche topped with sugar (and candied fruit if you’re in Provence) at local French tables. It’s a sweet debate ripe for lively discussion; historically, there have always been fights over who gets to make the galettes- patisseries or boulangeries. The King (Francoise 1er) had to make a decision and the pastry chefs won the right. Later the bakers figured out away around with a loophole so you can find your preferred King’s Cake all over town. And of course, there are great examples across world, the internet, and in cookbooks—French, Spanish, Mexican, Portuguese and, of course, New Orleans.
Ready to bake…
But I live in a rural area that celebrates the coming of the Magi with not just one cake but dozens of them. And a cake designed to share as a fat slice of pouffy brioche is easy to eat all day long—petit dej, dejeuner, gouter et dessert. Once shared with friends with a class of wine or a cup of coffee, the king or queen—whoever gets the hidden fève and wears the paper crown—must bring the next gâteau. And so it goes on and on… all January long. One January I counted 24 gateaux crossing my threshold at Camont.
In the true spirit of Gascon neighborliness, I offer you this simple brioche Gâteau des Rois —enough to make 2—one to eat and one to give so you start your own Gascon tradition of “you need to bring the cake!” It’s simple to make with small flurries of activity—mixing, kneading, and shaping, interwoven with resting periods to let the brioche rise. This is one of the few times I use my stand mixer with a dough hook to knead and then incorporate the buttery syrup.
And the fèves? I have hundreds of them left from my late Sister’s collection. Anyone want to start a bakery?
just out of the oven…
Recipe: Gâteau des Rois Brioché
Here is the recipe I followed after adapting from a number of resources; I doubled the butter from one, added an extra egg from another, and used the syrup technique from a third. It makes for an easy to mix all in one go recipe.
For the syrup:
200 g butter
100 g Sugar
½ t Salt
Zest from and orange and a lemon
1 T Orange flower water or crepe arome
1 T armagnac and vanilla bean flavoring
For the dough:
500 g flour (I use all purpose or T55)
15g / 1 T dry Yeast
4 fresh Eggs
For the topping
1 egg, beaten
1 cup coarse sugar, perles, or other sweet decor.
Prepare the syrup first so it can cool to just warm: bring the butter, sugar, salt and citrus zest to a boil, stir and cook until all is melted. Remove from heat and add the flavorings. Let cool to lukewarm.
Prepare the dough by placing the flour, yeast, and eggs in a mixing bowl. Mix with a dough hook on low speed. Start to add the syrup in a thin stream as the dough is mixed well and all is incorporated. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. (longer if mixing by hand)
Let the dough rise in the bowl until doubled in size (1-2 hours depending on the room temperature), split the dough in half, add a porcelain fève or dried bean to each half, and shape the cakes into crowns.
To shape: make a ball from each half, flatten slightly, punch a hole in the center and stretch the dough into a ring like a large doughnut. I do this on a piece of parchment paper so I can easily transfer the cake to a baking sheet. Let the shaped cakes rise again in a warm place- I use my cold oven with the light on.
When the gateaux have risen to double size (another 1 1/2 hour or so), brush the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with the sugar toppings.
Bake: place in a cold oven and turn the temperature to 175’C / 350’F for 25 minutes or so. Remove, let cool and serve with Champagne!
Happy Fêtes Everyone! and here’s to being the King or Queen!