The sixth of January marks the Feast of Epiphany, otherwise known as Twelfth Night, or the end of the Christmas season. It is the day when we celebrate the visit of the three wise men to Jesus, and traditionally the day when Christmas decorations are taken down. So we ate galette des rois for dessert and then proceeded to undecorate the house.
The two taken together made a kind of solemn celebration; almost an anti-festivity. The sweet French pie consists of layers of puff pastry surrounding an almond filling. Its light flakiness is the opposite of the dense richness of Christmas cake; its plain burnished finish so different to colourful icing.
Likewise, as our living room shed its lights and tinsel and returned to its everyday state - as everyone helped to remove baubles, gently wrap the precious ornaments, and wind up the strings of lights - I found myself reflecting on the ritual. I'd never thought of the taking-down being as important as the putting-up, but somehow, this time, it felt that way. We made a gentle end to the season, and celebrated the return to normal life. Just as the wise men made a fleeting visit to the baby before taking up their journey again, so we too, having rejoiced at the manger again, will carry on with the daily task of following Jesus.
But don't forget the cake!
Galette des Rois
1 packet puff pastry
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
1/2 tsp almond extract
Roll out the puff pastry (if not ready-rolled) and cut out two circles, about 18cm and 20cm diameter.
Make sure the butter is soft. Put it in a bowl with the sugar, almonds and almond extract. Beat the egg in a cup, then pour most of it into the bowl, saving a teaspoonful for an egg wash. Beat the almond mixture together to form a smooth paste.
Put the smaller pastry circle on a baking sheet. Pile the almond paste in the middle and spread it out evenly, leaving a border round the edge. Brush a little water onto this border, then drape the larger pastry circle over the top and smooth down. Use your thumb to press the edges together to make sure it's completely sealed. Make a pattern on the top with a knife.
Put the pie and the leftover egg in the fridge for half an hour or however long is convenient. Preheat the oven to 180C. Brush the pie with egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.
(Adapted from a recipe by Raymond Blanc)