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Gateau des Rois (Twelfth Night Cake)

In France, where it originated, there is a charming custom connected with the Twelfth Night cake, for each one contains either a small porcelain figure, a silver coin or, in the past, a bean. The intention is that, when the cake is cut, the person whose slice contains the token is crowned king or queen for the night. It then falls to him or her to entertain the guests in their own home and offer in turn, yet another gateau des rois. In this way the entire month of January becomes a merry extension of the Christmas festivities.

ingredients

330 g (11 1/2 oz) strong, plain flour
75 g (3 oz) caster sugar
100 ml (3 1/2 oz) water heated to blood heat
15 g (1 tbsp) fresh yeast
75 g (3 oz) butter, softened
3 eggs
10 g (2 tsp) lemon zest
5 g (1 tsp) salt
1 dried haricot bean or silver coin
1 egg, lightly beaten
45 g (3 tbsp) coffee sugar crystals or preserving sugar
15 ml (1 tbsp) strained apricot jam
50 g (2 oz) candied angelica, lemon and orange peel, cut in strips
50 g (2 oz) glace cherries

method

1. Make a Yeast Sponge Batter with 65 g ( 2 1/2 oz) flour and 5 g (1 tsp) sugar taken from the main recipe and the water and yeast.

2. Beat well, cover and set aside to rise.

3. Beat the butter and the rest of the sugar until pale and creamy, beat in the eggs one at a time and the lemon zest.

4. Sift the flour and salt two or three times and finally into a large bowl.

5. Make a well in the middle and drop in the butter mixture. Draw in a little flour from the sides and add the yeast batter.

6. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and beat hard; it should be quite a limp dough but elastic and shiny with large bubbles of air.

7. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and leave it overnight in the cool kitchen or larder to rise and at least double in bulk.

8. Next day, turn out the dough on to a floured surface, knock it back and knead in the dried bean or silver coin for a few moments.

9. Pinch off pieces of dough and make six hazelnut-sized balls; set them aside.

10. Cut off two-thirds of the remaining dough and roll it into a rope about 55 cm (22 in) long; curve it round into a circle and pinch the ends firmly together.

11. Transfer to a large (26 cm (10 1/2 in) , well-buttered ring mould and carefully brush the top only with beaten egg.

12. Divide the remaining dough into two and roll each piece into a rope a little longer than the first one. Lightly twist the two together into a braid and carefully lay it in a circle on top of the egg-washed ring. Pinch the ends well to secure them.

13. Brush a dab of egg on the base of each reserved dough ball and space them equally apart on the braided ring. Lightly cover, the crown with a floured cloth and leave to rise for 45 - 60 minutes until risen to about double in bulk.

14. Brush all the surfaces lightly with egg and scatter over the sugar crystals. Bake in the preheated oven at 190°C (375°F) Gas 5. for 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

15. While the cake is still warm, brush the top with strained apricot jam and stick the candied fruits and cherries on the surface to resemble jewels in a crown.

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