Recipe: La couronne des rois from Provence: The Cookbook
PUBLISHED: 12:36 28 December 2019
France celebrates the feast of Epiphany on 6 January with dessert: a galette, gâteau or couronne des rois to mark the arrival of the three kings to Bethlehem
Each cake is baked with a tiny little porcelain figurine hidden inside, known as the fève (a likely eponym as they would have been dried broad beans, fèves in French, in frugal times of yesteryear). As the cake is cut, the youngest person in the room slides under the table and calls out the name of the person who should receive the next slice. She or he that finds the fève in their piece of cake becomes king or queen for the day.
In Provence, we opt for a couronne des rois over the famous galette des rois. The lesser known couronne is an orange blossom-flavoured brioche, decorated with candied fruit and crunchy pearls of sugar. Its soft, light texture is most welcome after the indulgences of Christmas and one I prefer to the frangipane-filled puff pastry of the galette des rois.
This couronne recipe is my great aunt Edmée's. She will double or even quadruple the quantities, making multiple cakes at once to give away to friends and family. Is there anything lovelier than gifting someone a homemade cake? I once memorably cyclyed home 15 kilometres from her house with a gifted couronne from her, precariously tied to the back of my rickety bike.
For the starter
20g fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast
5 tbsp tepid milk, plus extra for brushing
50g plain flour
For the couronne
zest of one orange
60g caster sugar
1 tbsp orange blossom water
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
2 eggs, lightly beaten
80g butter, softened
40g chopped candied peel
1 porcelain fève (charm), or whole almond
3 tbsp apricot jam
1 tsp orange blossom water
8 glacé cherries (optional)
8 candied fruit pieces (optional)
2-3 tbsp pearl sugar
For the starter: Crumble (or add) the yeast into a bowl containing the tepid milk. Mix in the flour, then cover with clingfilm. Leave in a warm place for one hour or so, until the dough has risen a little and bubbles have formed: your starter is ready.
For the couronne: Add the orange zest to a large mixing bowl with the sugar and orange blossom water. Mix, then sift over the flour.
Add the beaten eggs, softened butter and prepared starter. Mix with a spoon as much as possible, then take over with your hands. Knead for a few minutes. The dough will be quite sticky.
Transfer the dough to a clean surface sprinkled with flour and continue to knead for 15 minutes. If you find the dough is still very sticky after five minutes, add a little extra flour.
Once you have finishing kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place back in the mixing bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with clingfilm and place in a draught-free, warm spot. Leave to rise until it has doubled in size. This will take two to three hours in a toasty place.
After a few hours, knock back the risen dough and allow the air to escape. Knead for a minute on a lightly floured surface, then roll into a circle about 2cm thick. Transfer to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Stick a finger in the centre to make a hole, then move it around to increase the aperture so that you are left with a shape like a giant, flat bagel, hole approximately 5cm in diameter.
Sprinkle the chopped candied peel around the hole and nestle the fève or almond inside it. Fold the outer edges of the dough inwards, over the candied fruit and press to seal with the inner edge, forming a sort of giant stuffed bagel: your couronne.
Carefully flip the couronne upside down (the bottom side is generally prettier), cover with clingfilm and prove once more in a warm place for two hours. Towards the end of the proving time, preheat the oven to 200˚C/180˚C fan/gas mark 6.
When you're ready to bake, remove the clingfilm and brush the cake with a little milk. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the top is a lovely deep golden colour. Once out of the oven and still warm, the couronne should be decorated. Place the apricot jam in a small saucepan and add the orange blossom water. Gently heat for one minute, then brush over the cake to glaze. Top with the glacé cherries and candied fruit, if using, followed by a generous sprinkling of pearl sugar.
This keeps for two to three days in a cake tin.
Provence: The Cookbook by Caroline Rimbert Craig is published by Kyle Books, £22, octopusbooks.co.uk
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