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All hail the King cake! Enjoy a seasonal frangipane-filled Epiphany pastry

16:42 02/01/2024

Just when you thought the feasting season was drawing to an end, bakeries across Belgium are showcasing their almond pastry confections for Epiphany on 6 January.

Galette des rois (Driekoningentaart in Dutch) or King cake is a gourmet treat typically shared between families, friends and colleagues in an edible competition to see who will be crowned king or queen.

Widely appreciated in francophone countries, the cakes were originally a winter solstice pagan celebration. The Romans baked a black or white bean into the cake in a draw to be king for the day. In medieval times, whoever became king had to offer a round of drinks, which led to some swallowing the bean to avoid lightening their purse.

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It then became a Christian tradition, honouring Epiphany and the visit of the three kings after the birth of Jesus. Custom dictated that the pastry was divided up according to the number of people around the table, leaving one slice as ‘la part du pauvre’.

The coveted fève, or bean, is usually a porcelain figurine, with cartoon characters among the most popular. Each cake is accompanied by a decorated or gilded crown to be adorned by whoever’s lucky enough to find the hidden trinket.

Although 6 January is the date for many to enjoy the cake, in some countries it’s the first Sunday of the year. Among the numerous variations to the classic puff pastry layers filled with sweet almond frangipane, are the additions of chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, apple or apricot.


Epiphany cakes found be in supermarkets and bakeries, with artisan examples the most appreciated by connoisseurs. One such Brussels pâtissier is Brian Joyeux, who prepares 1,500 Galettes des rois for customers each year (pictured). The number is limited by the need to order the porcelain wild animal figurines 12 months in advance.

As well as the classic almond filling, it offers an alternative and popular frangipane and raspberry variation (€28 and €30). The reputable baker serves only six-portion galettes, “to ensure conformity and quality”, while pointing out that the pastry stays fresh for a few days.

Pierre Marcolini

Master chocolatier Pierre Marcolini has created a limited edition contemporary version for 2024 (pictured). The square Epiphany cake is designed to be even easier to divvy up among fellow gourmets. It boasts a subtly smoked almond cream sandwiched between a crisp almond base and a layer of puff pastry twists sprinkled with icing sugar (€33 for six people).

Maison Dandoy has come up with a range of fortune-telling almond or speculoos flavoured galettes des rois (€28 for six to eight people). A different personality has been attributed to each cake, such as gourmet, dreamer, party animal, gambler, or whatever fate throws at you…

Alternatively, you could whip one up yourself. The recipe is a relatively simple concoction of ready-rolled puff pastry, eggs, egg yolks, butter, sugar, ground almonds and an optional dose of rum or almond liqueur. Additional flavourings optional. Enjoy!

Written by Sarah Crew