France might be the centre of Galette des Rois celebrations, which begin on Twelfth Night and last until Shrove Tuesday, but the appeal of the moreish king’s cakes – pastry filled with frangipane cream and a hidden charm at its heart, the fève (literally, broad bean), which is used to crown the recipient king of the feast – stretch over La Manche to British shores. Here are three of the best on each side of the water.
1) At Orée, the French bakery on Fulham Road in London, which opened last summer, the Galette des Rois cakes (£20 for six people) are gloriously classic: made with puff pastry and filled with frangipane cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar – plus of course, a fève. Founder Laurent d’Orey’s offering also includes a crown, with which the guest who finds the fève is duly ordained and is then free to choose his or her queen or king for the day. Available now;275-277 Fulham Road, London SW10 (020-3813 9724; www.oree.co.uk).
2) Régis Beauregard, formerly at The Ritz London, now at Balthazar Boulangerie and Balthazar Restaurant in Covent Garden, bakes his Galette des Rois (£20 for six to eight people with two gold paper crowns and a fève, or £2.75 per slice, which might or might not have a fève). “The secret? Lots of high-quality butter à la française,” he reveals. The flaky pastry has notches across it and is oven baked. “To make ours a little different, I add hazelnut powder, fresh orange zest and candied almonds,” says Beauregard. The French version, filled with frangipane, is said to have been invented several centuries ago by a Florentine nobleman, the Marquis of Frangipani, Beauregard reports, before adding that a glass of white Jurançon sec or a flute of Henri Giraud champagne is the perfect accompaniment. From Monday December 26 to Tuesday January 31;4-6 Russell Street, London WC2 (020-3301 1155; balthazarlondon.com/boulangerie).
3) French-born pastry chef Dominique Ansel, who conquered New York with his Cronut creations and launched his first London bakery on Elizabeth Street last September, has created a version (£30 for six to eight people, or £5 per slice) filled with almond frangipane and with a hand-scored design on top, containing a fève and a paper crown. “Traditionally, the pastry would be cut into as many portions as there were guests, plus one. The last one, called the part du pauvre [poor man’s share] was set aside for the first pauvre who stopped by the house,” he says. From Friday December 30 to Sunday January 22; 17-21 Elizabeth Street, London SW1 (020-7324 7705; www.dominiqueansellondon.com).
4) “In the south of France, the traditional dessert is not usually made with puff pastry but a brioche flavoured with orange flower essence, shaped into a crown, with pieces of red fruit and sugar on top, and known as the Gâteau des Rois,” says French TV chef and baker Cyril Lignac, whose eponymous patisserie is in Paris’s chic 11th arrondissement. His inspiration comes from all over the world, but particularly France, and his version (€25 for six to eight people) is best paired with organic, non-filtered artisan beer (€7 a bottle) brewed for Lignac by Emmanuel Rey at the Brasserie de la Vallée de Chevreuse on the Ile-de-France and available at Lignac restaurants and luxury chocolate shop. “They even played ‘find the king’ at the table of Louis XIV,” adds Lignac. “Ladies of the court who found the fève became queen of France for a day and could ask the king to grant them a wish, called grâces et gentillesse”. 2 Rue de Chaillot, 75016 Paris www.lapatisseriecyrillignac.com).
5) At La Maison de la Truffe, chef/patissier Gilles Marchal (former creative director at La Maison du Chocolat) has his own interpretation – a unique galette (€39 for six people, or €6.5 per slice) made with aromatic black Périgord melanosporum truffles combined with buttery puff pastry, traditional frangipane, almond powder and crushed hazelnuts. Order in advance, or available in store from Tuesday January 3; 19 Place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris (+331-4265 5322; www.maison-de-la-truffe.com).
6) During the 18th century, the fève was a porcelain figurine representing the Nativity and characters from the crib. Today there’s a wide range of different fèves, which are treasured by collectors, and “rock ’n’ roll” pastry chef and TV presenter Christophe Michalak has replaced the fève with a black “hero’s fantasy mask”, as he calls it. This matches his Fantastik Galette (€48 for six to eight people), which comes in three flavoured versions: Corsican orange, vanilla tonka or caramel. From Monday January 2 to Sunday January 29; 8 Rue du Vieux Colombier, 75006 Paris www.christophemichalak.com).
And finally, each year during the traditional reception at the Elysée Palace, a giant galette, measuring 1.2m wide and sufficient for 150 people, is baked for the French President. But the artisan baker and pastry chef are instructed to forget the fève. “It would not be appropriate to find a king in the presidential palace of the Republic,” explains a palace spokesperson.