Gâteau des Rois: Three Kings Cake

For our first Epiphany in Switzerland—also known as Three Kings Day—I was completely unaware of a major Swiss tradition: Gâteau (or Galette) des Rois in French or Dreikönigskuchen in German. Last year, how did I miss seeing these crown-covered cakes in the windows of our local boulangeries?

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This year, a few days before January 6, special bread wreaths with golden paper crowns started appearing at Coop. Thanks to a quick Google search, I discovered that the Swiss celebrate this religious holiday by eating a cake with a surprise inside. While baking a cake for Epiphany is an old tradition, an ambitious pastry researcher and the Richemont school revived it in Switzerland in the 1950s.

Each cake contains a fève (and sometimes more than one), which is typically a small toy king to symbolize the three wise men who visited Jesus 12 days after his birth. The cake I bought contained two, one of which was a tiny porcelain Lucille Ball. According to a Swiss friend, along with the typical king figurines, bakers will sometimes add a more modern figure, like a Disney character. In our case, to our surprise, it was a popular American actress and comedienne.

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Two fèves: one of the 3 wise men… and Lucille Ball!? (coins shown for scale)

Of course, eating a cake for Epiphany isn’t entirely unique to Switzerland. I’ve heard of similar cakes being prepared in Spain, Portugal, France, Bulgaria, the United States and other countries. In Switzerland, whoever finds the fève gets to be king or queen for the day with a paper crown to symbolize their status. Friends tell me the French tradition requires the youngest child in the family to sit under the table and name off their family members at random, while an adult or another older child passes out pieces of cake to those who are called.

­Here in Suisse-Romande, we have the Swiss brioche-style couronne for Three Kings Day, as well as the French-inspired pithiviers, a delicious puff pastry cake filled with frangipane. The brioche-style version traditionally contains raisins, but I saw many versions without. One of my favorite bakeries in town studded its cake with chunks of chocolate. The Pithiviers also has a crown shape, with a design cut into the shiny browned top.

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Gâteau des Rois with chocolate

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French-inspired Pithiviers

With my son’s test results indicating an almond allergy, we skipped the almond-flavored pithiviers and the almond-topped couronne. Instead, I made a homemade Galette des Rois with a pumpkin seed hidden inside. When our family sat down for breakfast on January 6 this week, we crowned my oldest son the king, much to his delight. We’ll certainly repeat this sweet Swiss tradition again next year, now that we’ve finally been introduced!

 

Galette des Rois

(dairy/egg/nut-free)

Adapted from Swissmilk’s version. I made another one from Migros’ cuisine de saison that was quite good, but the cake contains one egg. In order to bake it long enough so it was safe for my son, the top got a little too dark. I also prefer Swissmilk’s recipe because it contains less sugar and more raisins.

Dough:
100 grams raisins (I used golden raisins)
500 grams all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7 grams active dry yeast
250 ml rice milk, warm
75 gram dairy-free margarine, melted and cooled

1 pumpkin seed or graine de courge

Topping:
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon rice milk (or for an egg-free version, just use rice milk)
some course grained sugar or sucre en grains

1. Combine flour, sugar and salt and form a well. Dissolve the yeast in warmed milk, pour into the well with the rest of the melted and cooled dairy-free margarine. Knead into a soft dough.

2. Knead raisins into the dough. Cover and let double in size.

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3. Form a ball with about a quarter of the dough, place on plate lined with parchment paper. Divide the rest of the dough into 6 or 8 balls, hiding the pumpkin seed in one of them. Arrange the balls around the central ball. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise for about 15 minutes.

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4. Brush with the egg yolk and rice milk mixture and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 25-30 minutes in the lower part of an oven preheated to 200°C/400°F.

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My homemade-looking version of Galette des Rois (sans dairy and nuts)

Another reason I shouldn’t have missed the tradition… It seems that almost every food blogger in Switzerland ­­has a wonderful recipe or a story to share about Galette des Rois—all of which I enjoyed reading. I’ve shared some of the links below, if you want more information about this festive Swiss treat.

I look forward to trying some new Swiss recipes this weekend, including the European version of my beloved Bundt cake. Bon week-end, everyone!

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