All throughout Europe, Christians celebrate the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th, as Epiphany. This is the day that the three kings from the East came to Bethlehem to worship the baby Jesus and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Many European countries have different versions of the king cake to celebrate this special day. In Northern France, they celebrate with the galettes des rois, which is two layers of puff pastry with a frangipane filling. In Southern France, they celebrate with a king cake similar to the Spanish roscón de reyes. It is made from a brioche dough flavored with orange blossom water, orange zest, and candied fruit. It is baked in the shape of a crown and decorated with pearl sugar and more candied fruit.
In both types of French king cake, they hide a little trinket called a fève, which is a porcelain figurine usually in the shape of baby Jesus, though as a popular collector’s item in France, they now come in many different shapes and themes. If you don’t have a porcelain fève (which means bean), you can use a bean or an almond. Below I’ve linked the Etsy shop where I bought mine, if you’re interested in buying one yourself. Whoever finds the fève in their slice of cake, gets to be king for the day!
Brioche des rois provençales / Provencal King’s Brioche
- 50 grams all-purpose flour scant 1/2 cup
- 8 grams active dry yeast 2 tsp
- 50 ml lukewarm water 3.5 tbsp
- 350 grams all-purpose flour 2 3/4 cup
- 65 grams granulated sugar 1/3 cup
- 8 grams salt 1.5 tsp
- 115 grams unsalted softened butter (1 stick/ 8tbsp)
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tbsp orange blossom water
- zest of 1 orange
- 60 grams candied chopped fruit (scant 1/2 cup)
- egg wash 1 egg whisked with 1 tbsp water
- jar of apricot jam
- pearl sugar
- assorted candied fruits for decoration
- Bean almond, or porcelain trinket for hiding in the cake (la fève)
- Mix together the ingredients for the pre-ferment and cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.
- After 1 hour, whisk together your flour, sugar, and salt, and then add the mixture to a mixer and add in all other ingredients for the brioche except for the chopped candied fruit. Mix on medium speed until roughly combined.
- Using a small bowl or measuring cup filled with lukewarm water, gradually pour in water a little bit at a time with your mixer running, until the dough reaches a smooth, shiny, and elastic consistency. It should pull away from the sides of the bowl and not stick to your finger when touched.
- Place the dough into a very lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise until doubled in size, 60-90 minutes depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
- After doubled in size, punch down the dough and on a very lightly floured surface knead in the chopped candied fruit. Then shape into a boule (see video for shaping tutorial) and using the end of a wooden spoon, a rolling pin, or your elbow, make a hole in the center of the boule. Then stretch the dough until you have a generous sized hole in the center and your dough is in the shape of a crown.
- Place the dough crown on a parchment lined baking sheet. If you want to maintain a large hole in the center, you can place an oiled metal baking ring or biscuit cutter in the center of the dough. Brush the dough with the egg wash, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise until about doubled in size, about an hour. Preheat your oven to 350F/180C when you notice the dough is almost finished rising.
- When the dough is risen, remove the plastic wrap, and then brush one more time with the egg wash. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and has reached an internal temperature of 190F/88C.
- Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool completely.
- Once completely cool, flip the brioche over and making a thin slit with a sharp knife, push your trinket, bean or almond into the bread to hide it.
- Warm some of the apricot jam on the stove or in the microwave and put through a sieve to strain of any fruit chunks. Once strained, brushed the outside of the brioche with apricot jam using a pastry brush. Then taking small handfuls of the pearl sugar, make a border of sugar on the bottom half of the brioche. Then decorate the top with the extra candied fruit to make the bread look like a crown for a king.
- Bon appetit! Hope you find the fève!