Three Kings Cake the French way: variants and recipes
January 6th, a party every year. Especially with a tasty three kings cake. In France there are different variations of this delicacy and the cakes also have different names depending on the region. Typical for the French Three Kings cake is the bean hidden in it somewhere. Whoever finds the bean becomes king or queen for a day and receives a beautiful crown. Make your own three kings cake. Not that simple, but super tasty! Opt for the traditional Three Kings cake or for the Provencal fougasse.
January 6th: Epiphany!
January 6th is a date marked in red on French calendars. After all, a three kings cake is eaten on that day! Children love this because there is a bean in the Three Kings cake! Whoever gets the bean becomes king or queen for a day and receives a beautiful crown. Sometimes the bean is an ordinary almond nut, but more and more often it is a porcelain figure. For example a saint or a cartoon character, but sometimes also a utensil or a Christmas tree. Some people collect these figures.
Tradition of the Three Kings Cake
With the Romans
Eating the Epiphany’s cake probably dates back to Roman times. At the end of December and the beginning of January they appointed a slave who could then be king for a day. Whoever had the bean in his piece of pie was allowed to be boss for a day and give orders. Then he was sentenced to death or simply became a slave again.
In the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, the Three Kings cake was cut into as many pieces as there were guests with one extra piece. That piece was called “the piece of the poor,” “the piece of the good God,” or “the Virgin Mary’s piece.” It was given to a poor or beggar who presented himself while eating the cake.
The Three Kings cake is eaten in France, but also in Québec, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Lebanon. In France there is a tradition where the youngest child crawls under the table. The mother or father points to a piece of cake and the child under the table says a name. This way, all the pie slices are distributed fairly and there is no way to cheat to get the bean. However, many parents will make sure that one of the children finds the bean and thus becomes king or queen for the day. The king may designate a queen and if it is a girl who has the bean, she may choose a king. The cake usually comes with a gold paper crown.
Different names and variants according to the French region
The traditional Three Kings cake is puff pastry with a marzipan mixture in it. But France is large and so many regions have developed their own variant of the Three Kings cake. These cakes have all been given their own name:
- In the Languedoc: fougasse or fougaço
- In the Ariège: la coque
- In Béarn: le garfou, with anise seeds
- In Provence: le royaume, decorated with candied fruit
- In Normandy: garots
- In the Périgord people don’t eat cake, but they do eat donuts called crépeaux or pâtissous
- In the south, the delicacy is called La Parisienne
- In Marseille, the name is Modane
- In the South-East it is called gâteau des Rois. The cake is made from brioche dough with some orange blossom water in it. It is a crown, so there is a hollow inside. On top are pieces of red fruit and large chunks of sugar, reminiscent of the gemstones on a real crown
- In the Basque Country, powdered sugar is sprinkled over the brioche. It has candied fruit and slices of baked apple
The classic three kings cake with frangipane and bean
For those who like to bake a real French Three Kings cake themselves, it is not really easy, but the result is impressive. You do have to take some time for it.
Ingredients for six to eight people
- 1 kg of puff pastry from the freezer compartment
- 100 gr butter
- 100 gr caster sugar
- 100 gr almond powder
- 1 small glass of rum
- 3 eggs, one of which for coating the cake
- a bean or figurine
Preheat the oven for 20 minutes, thermostat 6 to 7. Using a whisk, beat the soft butter, almond powder, sugar and rum. When the mixture is smooth, add two whole eggs to it. Stir the mixture until all the sugar has melted. Divide the puff pastry into two parts. Make two round balls. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface and roll out the first ball with a rolling pin. Make a round shape, with a height of half a centimeter. Divide the frangipane mixture over this. Don’t forget the bean or the ceramic figure!
Leave about an inch on all sides along the edge. Cover this edge with some egg white, then the second rolled out puff pastry. Press the edges together to close the cake. Make a diamond pattern on top with a knife and then make five to six holes all over the cake with an awl. Then brush the top of the cake with egg yolk.
Place the cake on a piece of parchment paper in the preheated oven. Do not open the oven for at least 20 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and brush with egg yolks again. Then put the cake back in the oven for 45 minutes. The galette is ready when it stops creasing when lifted. Turn the galette over and push a bean or a porcelain figurine into it somewhere.
Recipe for the Provencal fougasse
You bake the more southern version like this:
Ingredients for 4 to 6 people
- 500 gr flour
- 5 eggs
- 150 gr butter
- 75 gr icing sugar
- 200 g candied fruit
- 20 gr baker’s yeast
- a pinch of salt
- 1 large bowl
- 1 brush
- a bean
- baking paper
- 1 measuring cup
- 1 knife
- 1 glass
- 1 spoon
Remove the butter from the refrigerator and let it soften. Crumble the baker’s yeast and dissolve it in a glass of lukewarm water. Let this rest for five minutes. Cut the candied fruit into small pieces and pour the flour into the bowl. Add the egg yolks, 50 g sugar and a pinch of salt. Cut the butter into small pieces, add it and knead with your fingers. Add the yeast and knead for a long time. Add half of the candied fruit. Roll the dough into a ball and let rise for 8 hours.
Roll out the risen dough into a sausage. Join the ends and make a crown. Sprinkle the rest of the candied fruit on top and push the bean or figure somewhere in it and close the hole again. Brush the crown with egg yolks and sprinkle icing sugar on top. Heat the oven: 20 minutes, thermostat 6 to 7. Place the crown on a piece of baking paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Eat the fougasse lukewarm.
Traditionally, a song of the Three Kings cake is sung in France. It goes like this:
J’aime la galette
Quand elle est bien faite
avec du beurre dedans
You can add stanzas by changing the ingredient “beurre” (butter) to de la farine (flour), du sucre (sugar), des oeufs (eggs), une fève (the bean).