My all-time favorite dessert is pumpkin pie. I absolutely adore pumpkin pie, with just a dollop of fluffy white whipped cream on top. I spend my entire year looking forward to the fall, yes, for the beautiful autumn colors and the crisp clear air, but also for the pumpkin pie.
Is it the waiting that causes me to so love this dessert? Is it the anticipation and the delayed gratification that makes pumpkin pie taste so good? Not entirely, I do honestly just love pumpkin: in my oatmeal, my lattes (with a little spice!), my roasted vegetable dishes, and in my desserts. But I’m sure that the scarcity of pumpkin during winter, spring, and summer prompts me to savor this golden gourd all the more.
The French don’t do pumpkin pie. Pumpkin (despite being awarded multiple French monikers, each indicating a different variety) is used solely for soup.
Thus in France, I need a different dessert fix. And it didn’t take me long to find it: my French equivalent to pumpkin pie is Galette des Rois (or King’s Cake).
Now if you know pumpkin pie and you know Galette des Rois, you’ll probably be thinking that I’m losing it. And it’s true that in taste, the two desserts have little in common. Galette des Rois is much more of a pastry than a pie, despite its large, round shape. It is made of flakey, buttery, phyllo dough filled with a substantial layer of sugary-sweet almond paste. Yum! Have you ever had a croissant aux amandes? Galette tastes like that. Only better.
Yet their difference in taste is countered by their similarities in other facets.
Galette des Rois, similar to pumpkin pie, is a very traditional food. Just as in the States, Thanksgiving feels incomplete without the final dessert course of luscious pumpkin pie; in France, January 6th (Epiphany) cannot exist without Galette. It’s a holiday food. One’s love for the tastes of these desserts gets mixed and folded into memories of family, love, and tradition, making them all the sweeter.
Part of the tradition of Galette is the search for the fève placed inside the cake. Historically a small bean, fèves nowadays are porcelain figurines depicting heroes of the latest blockbuster movie (I found a Harry Potter figure in my slice of Galette once–if only it had indicated a subsequent Hogwart’s letter delivered by owl…alas no such luck—and once a Puss In Boots from the latest Shrek film). The figure is placed somewhere in the Galette as it is being prepared. Once baked, the unsliced Galette is placed upon the dinner table and the youngest person present (or, more traditionally phrased, the most innocent person) climbs beneath the table. As the host or hostess slices the Galette, s/he inquires “Et celui pour qui?” (And this one for whom?) The person beneath the table calls out who each piece is for until all slices have been doled out. The lucky person who finds the fève in his or her slice becomes king (or queen!) for the day.
In addition to being specific to a certain holiday, Galette, like pumpkin pie, is a seasonal dish. Although this makes sense with pumpkin pie (pumpkins ripen in late autumn), I’m not sure why Galette isn’t sold throughout the year. Are almonds seasonal? Maybe my existence in an age of globalization, green houses, and 24/7 grocery stores has hidden from me the naturally occurring almond season. Regardless, Galette is only served in January; you can’t find it during any other month.
Thus, is it the buttery dough, sweet sugar, and flavorful almond paste that I love, or is it the waiting game? Is it only the taste I enjoy? Or do I relish Galette, as I do pumpkin pie, in large part because I must savor it only in memory during the majority of the year, waiting in anticipation for that next Epiphany bite of Galette des Rois?
In any case, I look forward to January every year: for the snow when I’m living in cold climates, for the three day weekends when living as a State-side student, and for the Galette des Rois when I’m living in France!
Continue to scroll down for a Galette recipe.
My aunt makes the most delectable Galette I’ve ever tasted, and I look forward to the special years when I spend January in France with her family. She gave me her recipe this year, and I whipped it up this weekend, baking two mini-sized Galettes for my flat-mate and I. So yummy, and so easy to make. Here’s her recipe.
Virginie’s Galette des Rois:
100 grams of butter
1. Preheat the oven to 220 Celsius.
2. Mix the almonds, sugar, softened butter, and four of the egg yolks together. You can add some almond extract to enhance the flavor if desired (I definitely do this! The more almond-y the better!).
3. Bake dough you’ll use for the bottom half of the galette for 2 minutes.
4. Remove the dough from the oven, spread the almond mixture over the dough. Cover with the second half of the dough.
5. Use a blunt knife to draw designs in the top of the galette.
6. Use the final egg yolk to spread over the top of the galette.
7. Bake for about 15 minutes.
Remove, let cool, and enjoy!!!!
PS- For another lovely take on Galette love, visit my colocatrice’s blog post on a similar topic.