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Recipe: King's Cake

On January 6, Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day is celebrated in Belgium. A culinary tradition associated with this day is the baking of a galette des Rois or driekoningentaart (literally ‘(Three) Kings’ cake’), in which a bean or a small figurine is placed in the middle. When cut, whoever gets the slice with the bean or figurine becomes King for the day.

Here's a recipe to make your very own King's cake or Epiphany cake, taken from the book 'What's Cooking in Belgium' by Anna Jenkinson en Neil Evans. 

6-8 servings
Preparing: 20 minutes 
Resting: 3 hours

  • 2 mixing bowls
  • Clingfilm
  • 1 small bowl
  • 1 small piece of tinfoil

For the pastry

  • 300g flour
  • 300g butter
  • 120ml cold water
  • 2 tsp white wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 1 generous pinch of salt
  • Optional: 1 tbsp icing sugar


For the filling 

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g butter
  • 120g ground almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp self-raising flour
  • 2 drops almond essence
  • Optional: 1 tbsp rum
  • 1 almond, butterbean or porcelain figurine

  • Making fresh puff pastry is very time (3 hours) and labour-intensive. You can always use the store-bought, pre-rolled variety. To make the pastry yourself, sieve the flour into a bowl in order to aerate it, and add a generous pinch of salt. Mix in 100g of butter then 120ml of cold water and a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice or white wine vinegar. Knead until smooth, then wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for half an hour. Make sure that the rest of the butter is out of the fridge as it will need to be soft.

    Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out on a floured work surface into a rectangle of about 30x40cm. Spread the remaining 200g of soft butter across 2/3 of the dough, and then fold it into 3, like you would a letter, with the section of unbuttered dough being laid over the middle buttered one. The remaining buttered third then goes over the other 2 layers. Roll the pastry out, fold it again in the same letter-like way and then put it in the fridge for half an hour.

    The dough needs to be rolled, folded and refrigerated at least 6 times,
    so for 3 hours you will need to return to the kitchen every half hour. If the dough is left in the fridge for too long it will become brittle, and if rolled out too frequently, the butter will absorb into the flour and the pastry won’t puff up into lots of very thin crispy layers. Set a timer to remind you when the dough is ready for another roll.

    Filling

    Prepare the filling by mixing 120g of sugar into 120g of very soft butter. Once smooth, stir in 120g of ground almonds (freshly ground in a food processor or shop-bought). Fold in the 2 beaten eggs a third at a time and hold a little back in order to glaze the cake later. Add a couple of drops of almond essence and a teaspoon of rum (optional) to give a deeper flavour. Sieve in the flour and mix together.

    Putting the cake together

    Roll the pastry out so that it is big enough to cut two circles out of it. Make the bottom one about 25cm in diameter, and the top layer 2cm wider 

    on each side. Place the bottom layer on a greased baking tray and spoon the almond filling onto the pastry to form a small mound that is slightly higher in the middle and reaches out to the edges, leaving a border of 1-2cm. You can now put an almond, bean or figurine inside. Wet the border with water and then cover with the top layer of pastry. Using your hands, gently press down on the top layer to ensure there is no air inside the cake and seal the edges by firmly pressing the pastry together.

    Make a small hole in the middle of the top layer of pastry, and into this, put a small piece of rolled-up tinfoil, about 1cm high and the diameter of a pencil. This is called a chimney and serves to allow steam to escape. Use the back of a knife to decorate the top of the cake: a leaf pattern is traditional.

    Glaze the cake with the remaining beaten egg and put in a pre-heated oven at 220°C for 35 minutes. 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time you can give the cake a shinier glaze by shaking a tablespoon of icing sugar over the top.

    • a whole almond, dry butterbean or porcelain figurine is put into the cake and whoever finds it in their portion is the king or queen for the day. so serve the cake with a paper crown.
    • it is traditional that the youngest person at the table should be the one who cuts and distributes the slices of cake.

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