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Quebec’s Epiphany: A Nostalgic Cake Fit For Both Kings And Family

The gallette des rois from Duc de Lorraine, Montreal’s oldest French patisserie, has flaky layers and a abounding frangipane filling.

Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR


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Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR

The gallette des rois from Duc de Lorraine, Montreal’s oldest French patisserie, has flaky layers and a abounding frangipane filling.

Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR

I was initial introduced to a gâteau des rois, or aristocrat cake, as a child flourishing adult in Montreal. My mom had done it to applaud Epiphany, on Jan. 6, and we was vehement to learn a polish paper-wrapped silver baked inside my piece. My younger sister had one in hers, too. This meant we would any accept a tiny gift. We usually did this a few times as a family over a years, though I’ve always remembered those times with a special fondness.

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The Epiphany is a Christian holiday commemorating a phenomenon of Jesus Christ to a Magi, when they arrived in Bethlehem to benefaction a baby Jesus with gifts, on a twelfth night after his birth. Celebrating a Epiphany with a gâteau des rois is a Catholic tradition that originates from a Roman non-believer ritual, that came to Quebec around France. The Romans would bake a cake, inside of that they would place a bean or a porcelain fish. Whoever detected a intent — regardless of his or her amicable standing — would play aristocrat or black for a day and a others would be a finder’s slaves.

Until a 1960s, Quebec was a staunchly Catholic province, and it was common for French Canadians to attend church on Jan. 6 before sitting down during home for a souper des rois, or kings’ supper, followed by a gâteau des rois, usually a unequivocally unenlightened and abounding cake. However, given it was routinely a home-baked cake, any kind would do. Today, Quebec is proudly secular, and thus, for many families, Epiphany celebrations — if a holiday is distinguished during all — have small to do with religion.

A cut of galette des rois during Duc de Lorraine contains top-quality baker’s flour and butter. About 600 cakes were sole final year between Christmas and a finish of January.

Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR


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Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR

A cut of galette des rois during Duc de Lorraine contains top-quality baker’s flour and butter. About 600 cakes were sole final year between Christmas and a finish of January.

Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR

For many comparison Québécois, eating aristocrat cake with their families is something they remember with a clarity of nostalgia. Madeleine Lepage, who lives about 60 kilometers easterly of Montreal, recalls: “We distinguished when we was young. It was a unequivocally fun, witty arrange of holiday. My mom would bake a cake with a bean inside. Whoever found it would get to be aristocrat or black for a day and they’d wear one of those Christmas cracker hats. My mom desired holidays, and she would go all out with small gifts and prizes, too. we continued a tradition with my possess children.”

Still, distinct in France, Spain or New Orleans, eating aristocrat cake for Epiphany in Quebec is not a entire or carnivalesque occasion. In fact, it’s a tradition that didn’t unequivocally start to locate on until Montreal’s Expo 1967, a World’s Fair, when French fritter chefs determined themselves in Montreal and non-stop patisseries.

These chefs brought with them their country’s culinary traditions, introducing Montrealers to a some-more worldly galette des rois, a abounding frangipane-filled smoke fritter cake with a specifically done porcelain figure inside. Today a tradition is apropos increasingly popular, with patisseries offered hundreds of galettes during a holiday season.

Bruno Cloutier is cook pâtissier, or conduct pâtissier, during Duc de Lorraine, that is famous for a classical French pastries as good as being Montreal’s oldest French patisserie, determined in 1952. Cloutier records that they’re offered some-more and some-more galettes any year. Last year, they sole about 600 between Christmas and a finish of January, and he expects to sell some-more this season.

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To obtain an ultra-flaky pastry, says Cloutier, a painter and prudent cook with a low passion for his work, we have to use baker’s flour and top-quality baker’s butter, usually accessible wholesale. “And we can’t stimulate or overlay a mix too most or it will be too airy,” he advises. “You also have to give a mix time to rest so that it will stay moist.” The outcome of flaky layers on layers of smoke pastry, he says, is achieved as a butter in a baking mix reaches a hot indicate in a oven, pulling a fritter ceiling and combining covering on layer.

As for a frangipane filling, Cloutier sets me true on a eminence between marzipan and frangipane. While both are sourced from almonds, marzipan is a sweet, ductile pulp that’s some-more like clay or Plasticine, while frangipane is a cream. To make frangipane with a right ambience and wet consistency, we have to use pure, finely belligerent almond powder, not marzipan paste.

The porcelain figurines inside a cakes are alien from France and operation from a biblical to a whimsical. Like ball cards, some people — called fabophiles — collect them.

Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR


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Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR

The porcelain figurines inside a cakes are alien from France and operation from a biblical to a whimsical. Like ball cards, some people — called fabophiles — collect them.

Elizabeth Warkentin for NPR

The tiny porcelain or finish figurines, famous as fêves des rois, or aristocrat beans, come in an impressively far-reaching array of colors, shapes and themes, trimming from a biblical, such as a correct group or a Virgin Mary, to a whimsical, such as soccer balls and animation figures. These are sourced from suppliers in France. Like ball cards, they can be collected, and a people who do so are famous as fabophiles. The fêves are indeed so delightful, we consider we might turn a fabophile myself!

Over during Maison Christian Faure, a new fritter propagandize and patisserie in Old Montreal non-stop by maitre pâtissier Christian Faure, I’m means to see most of a credentials of a galette.

The frangipane stuffing and fritter have already been prepared when we arrive to accommodate Faure, so we drive adult to a patisserie school’s third-floor kitchen, where he demonstrates a process.

Faure, who sells about 700 galettes during a month of January, creates his stuffing with tip peculiarity butter, topping sugar, belligerent almond powder, eggs, rum, and a liking of a lemon or orange “to give it a good perfume.” The butter for a fritter contingency come from Normandy, a best, according to a internationally eminent fritter cook who has perceived a American Academy of Hospitality Sciences endowment for “Best Pastry Chef in a World” as good as a prestigious Five Star Diamond Award.

Despite being an innovative cook who experiments with engaging deteriorate combinations, Faure draws a line when it comes to holiday traditions like a galette: “Not before Jan 1st — during least! And it unequivocally shouldn’t be served until a Sunday before Epiphany. It’s got to be fresh, not frozen, so it shouldn’t be prepared too distant in advance.”

Pastry chefs here do whatever, whenever,” he laments, adding that it’s a same with anniversary fruit desserts. “You make a fraisier when a strawberries are in season, in July, not year-round.”

This year I’m looking brazen to celebrating Epiphany with my family for a initial time in several decades. We’ll have a poetic cooking followed by a galette des rois on Jan. 6 — and not a day earlier!

Elizabeth Warkentin is a freelance author and photographer formed in Montreal. She has created for National Geographic Traveler, BBC Travel, a Globe and Mail, a Independent, a Boston Globe, and a Toronto Star. You can follow her on Instagram during @lizwarkentin.