Try making this French King Cake (Galette des Rois) to sample a French delicacy traditionally served for the Epiphany (Jan 6th). Made from classic puff pastry and an almond frangipane filling, there is nothing like the taste and texture of homemade French king cake, it's one of my favorite French cake recipes.
💡 What is French King Cake (Galette des Rois)?
If you have been in France in early January and wandered past a boulangerie, you must have seen circular golden brown tarts in the window. This is the celebrated Galette des Rois or French king cake, as it is known in English, a classic French dessert made to celebrate the Epiphany at the end of each year's Christmas season.
It is made from two layers of buttery puff pastry (pâte feuilletée) with a creamy almond frangipane filling in between. Traditionally, the almond king cake is baked with a bean or coin hidden inside it, and whoever ends up with the slice of cake containing this charm gets to be king or queen for a day.
💡What is Epiphany?
The Epiphany is a Christian feast day marking the event of the three Kings (or three wise men) visiting baby Jesus in Bethlehem. It is also known as Three Kings Day and according to the story in the Bible, the men brought gifts of Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh. The date is now celebrated on the 6 January and traditionally, the Epiphany marks the end of the festive season.
In France especially, but also in other Catholic countries like Spain and Italy, there are huge festivities on the Epiphany with parades, parties, and gifts.
🌟 Why this is the best French King Cake recipe
- The taste: This is a dessert of kings. Rich, buttery, and golden in hue, it is regal in every sense of the word. The French know their desserts, and this is true decadence.
- The texture: Imagine the glorious crunch of cutting into warm, crisp, and light puff pastry and finding a deliciously smooth almond cream filling inside. The texture is out of this world, just like the taste.
- It's special: This is not a cake that is easily available in stores outside of France, it is a French specialty and because it forms part of the Epiphany celebrations, you cannot usually find it all year round. Bring France to wherever you live with this King Cake.
📝 Ingredient notes
1. For the Classic Puff Pastry
- Unsalted butter: Always use unsalted butter in baking to control the quality and quantity of salt. I use 82% fat-content butter in all my recipes, however, 84% butter is even better for puff pastry if you can get it. You can even make homemade butter! The butter in puff pastry is used in two ways, a small part is mixed into the lean dough, and then a sheet of butter is laminated into it by rolling and folding several times.
- Bread flour: Bread flour (sometimes known as strong flour) is the best flour for puff pastry as it has a high protein content which allows for good gluten development. Read my flour guide here.
- Salt: Salt works to enhance the amazing flavors in this Epiphany king cake recipe, so we use a small amount of it, even though it is a dessert recipe!
- White vinegar: A small amount of vinegar in the puff pastry dough allows the dough to relax and makes it easier to roll and fold without breaking. You will not be able to taste it!
- Water: You will need ice-cold tap water to make puff pastry, so keep it in the fridge and chill it down rapidly in the freezer just before you use it.
🛒 You’ll find detailed measurements for all Ingredients in the printable version of the Recipe Card at the bottom of this post
2. For the frangipane (almond) filling
- Powdered sugar: Powdered sugar (or icing sugar) is the best sugar to use for frangipane as it is so easily creamed into butter.
- Unsalted butter: As you will be creaming the sugar and butter together, the butter for the almond cream filling will need to be at room temperature.
- Egg: The eggs in this French king cake recipe need to be at room temperature so if yours are in the fridge, take them out before you start baking. Read my egg guide here.
- Vanilla bean paste: This recipe can be made with vanilla bean paste (I use Nielsen massey) or with vanilla extract.
- Almond flour: You can use either almond flour, almond meal or ground almonds for this kings cake, but each will result in a slightly different frangipane texture that is either smoother or slightly more rustic with a larger grain.
- Salt: Salt enhances the flavors in recipes, so using a small amount even in sweet dishes will bring out the best in your dessert.
- Rum: This is optional, but adding a splash of rum to frangipane almond cream gives it another level of depth and warmth. The resulting cake will not be alcoholic as the alcohol is cooked out during the baking process, it just adds flavor.
3. For the egg wash
- Egg: I use a room-temperature whole egg
- Milk: Just a splash of milk will slacken the egg wash enough to gently brush over the puff pastry, and it also helps to give even more shine.
There are several types of egg wash, all suitable for different recipes. To learn more about them, read my egg wash guide.
🛒 You’ll find detailed measurements for all Ingredients in the printable version of the Recipe Card at the bottom of this post
👩🍳 How to make this recipe
Making puff pastry from scratch takes time, but if you manage things in advance, you can start this Epiphany cake recipe and be able to eat it the following day. Read my article if you want to learn more about traditional puff pastry.
1. How to make Classic French puff pastry
- Make your lean dough (détrempe). Mix the water with the vinegar and chill it for a few minutes in the freezer.
- Sieve the flour and salt together into your stand mixer prepared with the dough hook attachment.
- Melt the butter and let it cool slightly before mixing it into the flour.
- Start adding the water-vinegar mixture to the dough with your mixer on its lowest speed setting, allowing it to come together for one minute.
- Continue to gently knead the dough with your hands for another minute until it becomes smooth to the touch, but do not overwork it.
- Chill the dough overnight in the fridge, wrapped in plastic food wrap.
- Make a butter block (beurrage) by slicing the butter into pieces and placing it between two pieces of parchment paper or in a sandwich bag. Roll over or hit with a rolling pin to fuse them back together into a square measuring (20x20cm / 8x8 inch). Chill overnight.
💡Top Tip: You may not need all of the water, stop adding it once the dough reaches a slightly moist, but not wet consistency.
- Take the butter block out of the fridge until it is cold but pliable enough to bend but not break.
- Roll the lean dough into a rectangle twice as long and slightly wider than the butter block, around 25x45cm / 10x18 inch. Place the butter block onto the bottom part of the dough, fold the top half down over it and carefully seal all 4 sides by gently pressing them together.
- Prepare a 6-fold puff pastry. Roll the dough into a rectangle measuring 25x45cm / 10x18 inch. Fold the top third down into the middle, and the bottom third up over it like a letter into an envelope shape with an open edge along the top and a closed edge along the bottom. Rotate the dough 90 degrees clockwise.
- Repeat this process, then wrap and chill the dough in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
- Repeat steps 2-3 twice more, making 6 folds in total. Do not make more than 2 folds without chilling in between.
- Cut the puff pastry into two equal pieces and chill them in the fridge for a minimum of 4 hours before making your French king cake.
Keeping the butter cold but pliable whilst making puff pastry is vital. If it is taking you longer and the dough is becoming too warm, chill in between each fold, rather than between every 2 folds.
💡Top Tip: Roll out your puff pastry dough on a silicon baking mat which will help you to fold without overhandling it, and means you can use less dusting flour too.
2. How to make the frangipane filling for the Galette des Rois
- Cream the butter and sugar together using an electric hand whisk or stand mixer until pale and fluffy. This will take around 3 minutes.
- Whisk the eggs lightly and then pour slowly into the almond mixture whilst continuing to mix.
- Fold in the other ingredients using a spatula until fully incorporated.
- Fill a piping bag with the almond cream and chill it in the fridge to allow it to thicken slightly.
3. How to assemble and decorate the Galette des Rois
- Roll out one of the puff pastry pieces so you can cut out a 22 cm / 8.5-inch circle to form the bottom piece of the Galette des Rois. Place it on a lined baking sheet
- Pipe the almond cream on top in an even layer, leaving a 2.5 cm / 1-inch margin around the edge. Cover in plastic food wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes before continuing.
- Roll out the other piece of puff pastry and cut out a circle that is just slightly bigger than the bottom piece, measuring approximately 23cm / 9 inches. Cover and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Take both pieces out of the fridge and brush a small amount of water around the edge of the bottom piece to help the seal.
- Assemble your French king cake. Place the top piece over the bottom piece and using the side of your hands, gently press them together and then flute the edges and further seal them together with a fork.
- Egg wash the top, cover, and chill for 30-60 minutes.
- Using the tip of a sharp knife, very lightly score a pattern on top of the French Galette des Rois. Do not cut through the pastry.
💡Top Tip: Don't overfill the French king cake with too much frangipane as you won't be able to seal it properly and it will leak out whilst baking.
4. How to bake
- Preheat the oven to 190C / 374F while chilling your pastry
- Bake the pastry at 190C / 374F for 20 minutes
- Turn down the oven temperature to 170C / 338F and bake for a further 20 minutes.
Starting with a high oven temperature encourages the pastry to puff up, but then turning it down to a lower temperature will ensure it is well-baked throughout.
💡Top Tip: If the French king cake is browning too fast, you can either cover it with aluminum foil or decrease the oven temperature. The top should be shiny and slightly darker than the sides.
🎓 Expert tips
- Always weigh your ingredients using a digital scale and do not measure by volume using the cup system. This recipe requires precision.
- Temperature is key when making puff pastry. Work in a cold kitchen, and if at any point the dough becomes too slack or sticky, cover and chill in the fridge. It needs to be pliable, but still cold.
- Make sure that the pastry is well baked by carefully lifting up with a cake slice or spatula and checking underneath before taking it out of the oven.
- This traditional French dessert is best served fresh.
- If you love frangipane, try other desserts like this raspberry frangipane tart
🥣 Equipment Notes
Baking is a science, so weighing your ingredients using a digital scale will ensure everything works correctly.
Incorporate the frangipane ingredients thoroughly using a stand mixer.
A good rolling pin is a baking staple and allows you to roll out the puff pastry evenly.
A silicone baking mat is a great kitchen tool. It lowers kitchen waste as is not single-use, allows you to use less dusting flour, and helps with rolling out and folding the dough.
Pipe your frangipane evenly like a true pastry chef using a piping bag.
Always bake at the right temperature! Ovens can vary, so checking the temperature using a digital oven thermometer is a great kitchen hack.
❓French King Cake recipe FAQs
If you do not have the time or ingredients to make homemade puff pastry for this French king cake recipe, then store-bought is ok. But homemade will always taste better!
Once it has been baked, French king cake will not freeze well. You can make puff pastry ahead of time and freeze it to use at a later date, however.
Store leftover French king cake in an air-tight container at room temperature and consume it within 2-3 days.
Marzipan is an almond-based candy, and is much denser than frangipane so will not work as well in this French traditional cake. Frangipane has more of a pastry cream consistency.
Yes, a rough puff will also work although the rise will not be as even which could affect how the cake looks.
🍰 More Puff pastry recipes
French King Cake (Galette des Rois)
For the Puff pastry
For the Frangipane filling
- 1 Egg
- Splash of milk
US customary cup measurement is an indicative figure only. Measure the ingredients with a digital scale by weight (gram). Baking is art but also science which requires precision and accuracy.
Prepare the puff pastry dough
- Mix water with vinegar and chill it for a few minutes in the freezer
- Mix flour with salt and melt butter (the smaller amount). Once the butter is not too hot mix it into the flour
- Melt butter (smaller amount) and once butter is not too hot mix with white vinegar. Pour melted butter (not hot!) & vinegar mixture into the flour
- Start adding the water-vinegar mixture to the dough while your mixer is at the lowest speed. Once water is added, knead the dough for another minute at low speed just until it comes together. Then, using your hand, gently knead the dough for another minute just until it becomes smooth. Do not overwork the dough
- Wrap the dough into a plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight
- Prepare a 20cm / 8 inch square butter block and refrigerate
- Use Silicone baking mat to make the rolling and folding easier. Start rolling the dough into 25x45cm / 10x18inch, which is 2x bigger (plus some extra) than the size of the butter. Take butter out of the fridge and when it is pliable, place it onto the bottom part of the dough, fold the dough over the butter block and carefully seal all 4 sides.
- Prepare a 6-fold puff pastry; Roll dough into 25x45cm / 10x18inch, fold the top third into the middle, then fold the bottom third into the middle. Now you will get an envelope shape that has an "open edge" on the top and a "closed edge" on the bottom. Rotate by 90 degrees to the right so you will get the "open edge" on the right and the "closed edge" on left.
- Repeat the above 6x with resting the dough for 1-2 hours either in between each fold or in between 2 folds. After the 6th fold, cut the pastry into two and refrigerate them for a minimum of 4 hours before using it.
For the Frangipane cream
- Cream room temperature butter and sugar until fluffy, for about 3 minutes then whisk egg lightly and slowly incorporate into the almond mixture while the mixer is on.
- Fold in the rest of the ingredients then fill a piping bag with the almond cream and pop it into the fridge to slightly thicken.
- Roll out one of the puff pastry disks and cut out a 22 cm / 8.5 inch circle - this will be the bottom of the French King Cake.
- Pipe the almond cream on top. Make sure you leave a min 2,5cm / 1 inch around the edge. Place the bottom circle with almond cream on it into the fridge for 30 min
- Roll out the other puff pastry disk and cut out a circle that is just slightly bigger than the bottom eg. 23cm / 9 inch - this will be the top of the pastry. Place the top circle also into the fridge to chill for 30 min
- Carefully apply a small amount of very cold water on the edge of the bottom part of the pastry (where there is no almond cream) and using your hands carefully but firmly seal the the bottom and top parts of the pastry together
- Apply your first egg wash then place the pastry into the fridge again for another 30 min
- Apply a second layer of egg wash and decorate according to your preference eg. curve lines starting from the center. Make sure to apply the decoration carefully with the help of the back of a knife and flute the edge around with a fork
- For the last time, pop the pastry again back to the fridge while pre-heating your oven to 190C/374F (no fan)
- Bake for 20 min at 190C / 374F (no fan) then decrease oven temp to 170C / 338F (no fan) and bake for another 20 minutes. Carefully monitor the pastry and judge the oven temp accordingly. The bottom should be well baked, and the top should be shiny by the end of the baking time
- Serve the pastry the same day. Any leftovers can be stored at room temperature for 2-3 days.
- Make sure to measure the ingredients using a digital scale
- Use a silicon baking mat to turn and fold the puff pastry dough. The mat not only prevents the dough from sticking but also acts as a ruler while rolling
- Try to work in a cold kitchen environment under 18C / 64F. If at any point the pastry is too sticky, pop it back to the fridge to chill before proceeding with the next step in the recipe
- When sealing the top and bottom together, try to be precise so the pastry won´t open up and leak during baking
- Check the bottom of the pastry - whether it is well baked - before removing it from the oven