Epiphany Galettes de Rois, Ancestors of Our Southern Mardi Gras King Cakes, Star at Etoile
Every morning during Epiphany, which begins in early January, Philippe Verpiand's parents would buy a galette des rois, or French king cake, which would be gobbled up by the following day.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Étoile will be selling French galettes des rois through March 4.
"We call it frangipane in France," Verpiand, chef and owner of Étoile, explains about the cake's almond filling. "It's almond butter made with an equal amount of almond meal, egg and butter with a little flour. It's pretty flaky and light. You can taste the vanilla and a little bit of rum inside the cake. And that's it."
That's it for the filling, that is. The creamy, barely sweet almond paste is surrounded by layers of light-as-air puff pastry that Verpiand and his kitchen staff, which now includes pastry chef Jose Hernandez, make themselves. Verpiand says the puff pastry takes the longest to make, but the end result sure is worth it.
"It's a piece of France outside of France," says Verpiand.
During the month of January, every bakery in France has galettes de rois for sale, in honor of Three Kings Day. Because galettes de rois translates to "king's cake," many people (including myself) mistake the pastry for a French version of a Mardi Gras cake. You know, the garishly decorated brioche ring with a plastic (or metal) baby baked inside of it.
"No, it's not for Mardi Gras," Verpiand says. "It's for Epiphany. But I'm going to sell it through Mardi Gras to span the junction between January and then."
Yes, this year, for the first time since he's owned restaurants, Verpiand is selling traditional French galettes des rois for $28 at Étoile from now through Mardi Gras. Verpiand insists the two cakes (Epiphany and Mardi Gras) aren't related, but we did a little digging and found out they may just be distant cousins.
The story continues on the next page.