King cake (Gateau des Rois)

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I used to go to the oldest bakery of my village every day after New Year’s eve to check their window for these beautiful shiny crowns topped with candied fruits. Gateau des rois is sold only in January to celebrate the Epiphany, when the kings bring gifts to little Jesus. Of course the North and the South of France have 2 different styles of cakes, the galette in the North and the brioche in the South. I am going to help you create the southern cake. In my region, when you buy this cake at the bakery or in supermarket it comes with 2 golden paper crowns. The tradition is that the youngest child sits under the table while someone else is cutting the cake. The hiding is essential as there is a “gift” hidden in the cake by the baker and you might reveal its position by cutting it. For each slice, the person hidden under the table gets to choose to whom that slice should go to. Children will desperately try to get the slice with the gift inside, even though it is usually a small figurine of the nativity, but it also means they will be allowed to wear one of the crown and choose their queen or king. For adults however, the person who gets the gift will have to buy the next Gateau des rois and still have to wear the crown…not as much fun.

The brioche should be light and buttery, and the candied fruits should be macerated in rum. And yes, we do serve this to children!

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Ingredients:

  • 100g of candied fruits chopped in small cubes
  • 2 tbsp of rum
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • 300g plain flour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 egg+ 1 yolk for the dough, 1 white for brushing
  • 100g unsalted butter soft
  • 1 tsp of Orange Flower water
  • 5cl milk
  • 7g of fast action yeast
  • whole candied fruits to decorate, candied cherries and orange peels
  • 50g pearl sugar to decorate

Macerate the cubes of candied fruits in the rum while you prepare the rest.

Dissolve the yeast in a little tepid water, about 2 tbsp. Mix flour, sugar, the zest and a pinch of salt together in a big bowl. Make a hole in the middle and add the yeast, the 2 eggs and the milk. Work the dough with a spoon to bring it all together, it will be quite wet. If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, I would suggest to add a bit more flour and work the dough with your hand for a few minutes, otherwise transfer the dough to the mixer, sit back and relax. After a few minutes, incorporate the butter bits by bits. Once the butter is nicely mixed in, the dough will be smooth, glossy and elastic. Add the orange blossom flower water and the cubed candied fruits and keep mixing.

A 23/25cm Savarin cake tin is ideal but I don’t have one so I made it up. I used my normal 25cm round cake tin that I greased well and used a jam pot lined with baking paper in the middle to create the hole. Pour the dough in the tin all around the jam pot. I say “pour” because the dough is very wet and will slide out of your mixing bowl. Try to even out the dough around the pot and join it all together. It is time to add a little “gift” to your dough for people to find when they eat your cake. Not too small to avoid an A&E visit! The old fashioned gift is a dried broad bean, but a little porcelain figurine will work better for children.

Let the dough rest at 30/35 °C for 3 hours until doubled in size. I used the defrost setting on my oven which gives me a constant 30°C. I haven’t yet tested the proofing overnight in the fridge, but I will keep you posted on this.

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When your dough has doubled in size, turn the fan oven at 190°C and brush the cake with the egg white. Cook for 20minutes. The crown should be golden and firm to the touch. Leave the cake to rest in its tin while you make the glaze. Mix the sugar and water together in a pan, and bring to the boil until thick. Take the cake out of the tin and brush it with the glaze. Add the pearl sugar on top and when the cake is cooled, decorate with fancy candied fruits. I love eating it on the same day, but it is also very good dipped in tea when slightly stale.

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