Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

Pithiviers, galette des rois (French king cake) recipe for Epiphany, danger and Johnny Depp in a box!

Celebration cakes, Special everyday cakes and treats

Do you want to be king or queen for the day?  Just bake this easy galette and make sure you find the fève hidden in there.  What’s a fève?  A bean or porcelaine trinket and I’ll be showing you some cute ones.  On January 6 or around this time when you’re eating this galette des rois with your family or friends, the lucky person who finds the fève or trinket will become royalty and wear the crown that tops the cake.  That’s the French custom though in Barcelona finding the bean isn’t very lucky!  More about that later.  This pithiviers is a faster option to the traditional galette des rois made with frangipane (almond cream and crème pâtissière).  This pithivier consists of two circles of puff pastry filled with deliciously moist almond cream beaten together in 5 minutes.  With an optional touch of rum to highlight the taste of almonds.  Oh and don’t be alarmed by the words ‘puff pastry’ – I took it easy this time and used good quality shop-bought stuff. 🙂  Tada!  A simple and delicious festive treat fit for a king or queen.

Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

The danger … or not

Some pâtisseries have started providing the favour or charm on the side of this cake in case a customer chokes on it.  You can read an article here about this and King cakes in New Orleans.  Last year we bought one from a French pâtisserie in London and didn’t realise till later the trinket wasn’t inside but next to the cake in the box.  What’s more it was a figurine of Johnny Depp dressed as a pirate!  Ok I admit I quite liked it (it was Johnny Depp after all) but it wasn’t very traditional or much fun finding the trinket in the cake box.  Perhaps we were supposed to roll a dice or fight it out for Johnny.

Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

Les fèves, trinkets to place in la galette des rois (Johnny is somewhere at home in Barcelona)

You can see some fèves sold on Amazon France here or even order some real cute ones from Mora in Paris for next time (I’ve ordered from them before, the postage wasn’t too expensive and my parcel arrived quickly).  But if you don’t have any porcelain ones handy then a dried bean or almond will do fine.  To deal with any potential danger you can cut and distribute the slices as usual but suggest everyone lift the top pastry layer to check for the favour before taking a bite.  You’ll see from the potted history below that this cake has been around a while and the French seem to have dealt perfectly well with the hidden charm.  Um… I’ve never heard of any ‘incidents’ anyway.  🙂

Not the crowning glory

You might want to be more prepared than I was and have a pretty crown for the winner rather than a makeshift one hurriedly created in 5 minutes out of acetate strip and aluminium foil.  Mum thinks it’s great, but she is my mum. 🙂

Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

Clearly a homemade crown on the galette des rois

The recipe

My original plan was to make inverted puff pastry but I forgot my recipe at home in Barcelona and it seemed better not to hog my mum’s kitchen aaaall day.  So we dug out some good quality all-butter puff pastry from the freezer.  You might be pretty happy with this option.

I liked the idea of a simple classic almond cream filling and the recipe comes from Mercotte,  the French equivalent to Mary Berry but with a smart foulard (neck scarf).  She has a lovely blog la cuisine de mercotte and co-hosts le Meilleur Pâtissier, the French version of ‘the Great British Bake Off’.  Then to pick up tips for assembling the galette, mum and I watched five youtube videos by French chefs, including Stéphane Louvard and Arnaud Delmontel.  Delmontel assures us the ingredients are healthy, so there you go.  Yay!

We’d actually made a pithiviers on the basic Cordon Bleu course with petal shapes around the cake.  None of the French chefs we watched did this but some people do and it’s an option.

2014 Pithiviers

2014 Pithiviers

I think I prefer the simpler style involving less pastry round the sides.

Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

The almond cream (frangipane) filling

  • 75g/a third of a cup softened butter
  • 75g/a quarter cup plus 2 tablespoons caster/superfine sugar
  • 75g/three-quarters of a cup plus 3 tablespoons ground almonds
  • 10g/1 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch/Maizena
  • 75g/a quarter cup plus 1 and a half tablespoons beaten egg (about 1 and a quarter medium-sized/large eggs, save the rest for the glaze)
  • 5 to 7g/a teaspoon to half a tablespoon dark rum, to taste (optional – you could also flavour with half a teaspoon vanilla essence or a quarter teaspoon orange blossom water, to taste)
  1. Use a whisk to cream the softened butter in a medium-sized bowl till smooth (put over a bain marie to warm slightly if necessary).
  2. Add the sugar and stir with your whisk till smooth.Pithiviers almond cream 1
  3. Stir in the ground almonds and cornflour, without beating in any air and in the minimum of time possible for the mixture to be combined and creamy again.
  4. Stir in the beaten egg and rum until creamy.  Again mix the minimum possible as whisking in air makes the baked almond cream dry.Pithiviers almond cream 2
  5. Place some plastic film on top of the almond cream to cover it completely on contact so there’s no air between the cream and film.  Place in the fridge to chill 1 hour (this is important so the mixture firms up).

The pastry and assembly

Preparation:  find a 26cm/10inch diametre cake tin/plate/bowl and one slightly smaller (24 to 25cm/9inch) – the size is flexible and with smaller circles you have a thicker, higher galette.  Prepare a baking tray your galette can fit on, lining it with baking paper.  Make sure you have enough space in your refrigerator for the baking tray and galette.

  • 500-600g all-butter puff pastry (I used 2 packets of Waitrose all-butter Jus-rol, 375g each – 1 packet for each circle, saving the leftover pastry for something else)
  • the remainder of the beaten egg
  • a pinch of salt
  • Sugar syrup:  21g/1 and a half tablespoons sugar with 21g/ml water and a teaspoon of rum (optional)
  1. Roll out your cool pastry on a very lightly floured surface to around 2 to 3 mm thick.  Cut out your first circle with the smaller tin/plate/bowl and place on a piece of baking paper so it’s easier to move around.  Lightly brush egg yolk around the circle, making a border of around 3cm/1.2inches.  Don’t brush over the edge.Pithiviers assembly 1
  2. Fill a pastry bag (without a nozzle) with your chilled almond cream.  Cut a tip of 1 and a half to 2cm then pipe to make a circle within the 3cm border of egg wash.  Pithiviers assembly 2
  3. Place your dried bean or porcelain trinket in the almond cream near the outer edge (so it’s easier to cut slices later than if it were in the middle).  Next time I think I’ll place two trinkets at opposite ends.  Or one trinket and one bean.  Roll out the other half of your dough to 2.5 to 3.5mm thick and cut out your second bigger circle, which is a little wider because it’s going to fit over the frangipane without stretching.Pithiviers assembly 3
  4. Place the second circle over the frangipane and first circle.  Use the side of your hands and fingertips to press down on the 3cm/1.2in border and help seal the two circles.  Eliminate any air.  Chiquetter the border:  press little diagonal lines in with the back of a small sharp knife to decorate and seal the two circles together even more. Pithiviers assembly 4
  5. Take the galette and turn it upside down onto your prepared baking tray, so your smaller circle will now be on top.  Whisk in a pinch of salt with your egg wash (this helps dilute it) and brush a thin even layer over the top but not too near the edges because that could stick the pastry to the paper and prevent it from rising well.  Mark a middle point and use a small sharp knife to cut swirling lines from there.  The lines should be quite deep but not cut through the pastry.  Mine could have been just a little deeper.Pithiviers assembly 5
  6. Make a little hole with your knife in the middle for the steam to escape from.  Place the galette in the fridge (still on the tray) to rest for one hour (some pâtissiers are leaving them overnight to bake the next day).
  7. When almost ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F (static oven) and 180°C/360°F (fan-assisted/convection oven).  After one hour brush a second thin coat of egg wash on the galette to make it even shinier.Pithiviers assembly 6
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.  Be flexible as this depends on your pastry and oven.  It should be golden brown on top but also have a good colour on the sides so the pastry is not underdone.  If the top of the cake is getting too brown then place a circle of aluminium foil on top as protection for the last 5 minutes or so.
  9. While the galette is in the oven make a sugar syrup by bringing 20g of sugar with 20g of water to the boil in a small saucepan.  Then off the heat stir in a teaspoon of rum (optional).  When the galette comes out of the oven brush with a thin layer of syrup to make it shiny (you probably don’t need all the syrup).  Pithiviers assembly 7

Eating and storing

You can eat your galette des rois almost immediately while warm or at room temperature.  It’s best eaten on the same day, also because then someone can find the fève and become king or queen.  Yay!  But you can eat it the following few days – wrap it in plastic film and keep at room temperature.  It’s taken us a while because here in London it’s just me and mum eating it.  Must do it with more people next time.  But we persevered and this morning at breakfast (looking rather dishevelled and vague) I finally found the fève in my slice and was crowned queen.  Hip hip hurray!  🙂The queen

A little history and other king cakes

In some places finding the bean is bad news.  The tortell de reis (king cake) in Catalunya contains two hidden surprises:  a dried bean and a tiny figurine of one of the three kings.  The person who gets the figurine wears the crown but the one who gets the dried fava bean pays for the tortell!  In Spain there’s a variant known roscón de reyes.  Both King cakes are more like brioches with candied fruit, sometimes filled with cream.

The cakes take their name from the biblical three kings and are eaten around Epiphany in Belgium, France, Quebec, Switzerland, Portugal (bolo rei), Spain, Latin America, Greece and Cyprus (vasilopita).  You can read more about them on wikipedia – King Cake.  Or look at the painting Le gâteau des rois by Jean-Baptiste Greuze painted in 1774 depicting a peasant family relaxing around the table.  The young boy behind his father is rubbing his hands in eager anticipation and there’s one slice left on the table, traditionally kept to give to a poor person.  In the middle ages the galette des rois was reportedly also served at other times of the year to liven up parties.  Not a bad idea!

Happy Epiphany!

I must thank the Daring kitchen for giving me the extra motivation to make this delicious galette with their pithiviers challenge!  Happy epiphany to them and to you all!  🙂

Pithiviers, galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany

Have a slice of pithiviers!

And I’ll offer you a slice sweet reader.  Are you making anything special for Epiphany?  Hope you’re having a lovely start to the new year.  Happy baking and eating! 🙂 x

Posted by

Baking on Sundays with my French mum was a lovely part of my childhood. Later I experimented with baking books or internet recipes and did the pâtisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Still trying out new recipes and inventing cakes with influences from all around the world, including some healthier ones. Yes, love cakes!!! Hope you'll love them too and have fun baking. :)

38 thoughts on “Pithiviers, galette des rois (French king cake) recipe for Epiphany, danger and Johnny Depp in a box!”

  1. Great blog (as usual!)
    I actually made a traditional Clootie Dumpling for New Years Day, but didn’t put the penny in the mix because I was using a Microwave recipe and thought I might explode my microwave :-s
    Happy New Year Lili x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It’s nice to know you enjoyed it. 🙂 That’s great you made Clootie Dumpling – I’ve enjoyed the ones I tried and wouldn’t mind giving it a go one day. You could give me tips? And I’m glad you didn’t have any explosions. 🙂 Happy New Year to you too Alba! x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It looks delicious and i loved the story about the trinkets. Just reading a food book where she wraps her trinkets in wax paper and ties string around the top so no chance of them getting “lost”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Annette! Happy you like it and the story. 🙂 Sounds like a good book and great tip about the trinkets. Definitely another option to avoid ‘incidents’. 🙂


  3. Absolutely gorgeous Lili, look at all that intricate work that went into this beauty! Just stunning! I hope you were able to share this with those around you (wish I was one of those) :). I can only imagine how my stomach would thank me a zillion times, well done!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Loretta! Glad you like the pithiviers … not intricate work really since it’s some beaten almond paste between two layers of shop-bought puff pastry! 🙂 lol. I’m always happy to share my cakes but of course your stomach will also thank you if you make it. 🙂


  4. You gâteau du Roi is wonderful Lili and the crown quite fun! I have a Dutch friend who throws King party every year and I am sharing your post with her! We sing Oh Tannenbaum in as many languages as are spoken by the guests at the end of the night. Quite lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Johanne! Glad you like it and my ‘shabby chic’ crown.:) And your friend’s party sounds wonderful! 🙂


  5. Pingback: Happy new year! Top posts in 2016 and baking projects for 2017… | lili's cakes

  6. Elaine Brown says:

    Gorgeous dessert: text and photos are excellent. I do have 1 question. Under the heading, “The Pastry and Assembly”, step #5 requires one to invert the assembled pithivier so that the smaller puff pastry disk is now on the top. What is the purpose of this step? How would the baking outcome differ if this step was not followed?

    Your web site is a joy: a feast for the eye and the tummy, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So happy you like this pithiviers Elaine. And good question! it is actually possible to omit this step. Several chefs and home bakers do not invert to have the smaller disc on top. But several bakers on youtube do the inversion and I found it makes the pithiviers look neater (around the edges too). So it’s up to you whether you invert or not! 🙂
      Thank you for your lovely encouraging comments by the way! Lovely to know you and your stomatch enjoy the blog! 🙂


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