We have been eating rather a lot of galette des rois, and I have even attended a galette des rois party organised by our French conversation instructresses, bringing the total to 6 galettes consumed within 2 weeks! Reminds me of the mooncake madness back home, since we missed all that excitement last year we have been overcompensating like mad once we discovered this quaint French tradition.
Here are the five that we have eaten at home, analyzed, loved/ hated, criticized and in a totally subjective manner, ranked in order of preference. They come from well known patisseries, prize-winning bakeries and neighbourhood shops and within a wide spectrum of prices too. All prices indicated are for a standard 4-person cake.
Two Saturdays ago Le Figaro published an article on how to choose a good galette. The colour should be a burnished brown, it advised, for it indicates that the pie is baked through the fillings inside and ensures a crispy, flaky crumb. It also advises to choose pies which do not have a peaked top which may indicate that the pastry has separated from the filling, i.e. gone a bit stale. There were more tips, but these two tips I carried with me when I went looking for galettes to buy.
The following pictures are not to scale. The fèves are definitely not bigger to the cake, they are usually no bigger than 2 cm in their widest/ longest section!
1. Patisserie Malitourne (12 euros)
The hands down favourite came from our neighbourhood bakery and chocolate maker on 30, Rue Chaillot VIIIth arrondissement. Very flakey and crispy pastry layers matching cohesively in a good ratio with filling which was moist, buttery and almondy. Fève was a "Dynastie Song" vase with surprisingly intricate details. At 12 euros it is definitely a good buy. They have 2 other outlets in the 16th arrondissement.
2. Ronde des Pains (we think)
This was, if you remember, brought by Sui Mai from her neighbourhood. She can't quite remember the name of the bakery but thinks that it is Ronde des Pains along rue Rambuteau, which I discovered is a chain of bakeries. We've placed it second because their galette is yummy, though a little sweet compared to Malitourne's. The fève is a cute, erm, doe-eyed Bambi.
3. Pain et Passion (14 euros)
The same Figaro article came with recommendation for what they think are the best galettes in Paris and a few other French cities. Top of the list is Pain et Passion which is a small bakery on 117 Avenue d'Italie in remote 12th arrondissement. Since I was meeting Sui Mai and we needed to divert ourselves with an activity rather than shopping at the soldes (sales) we decided, why not, to go look for this top galette. It's good to have a friend in Sui Mai, she doesn't find it strange at all to travel across town for a cake; she even half-suggested that we stop by another Figaro-recommended bakery along rue Monge and we really would have done so had we not missed the bus-stop.
Anyway, Pain et Passion looked promising. On their windows is the proud declaration and trophies from their being declared the best galette maker in 2005. Unfortunately after two years the standards must have slipped. It was a very flat eating experience in all senses- the pastry didn't do much except come off in layers, and the filling was too dense and uniform tasting, and very much lacking in creamy almondy pleasures. The fève though is adorable, so much so that my V was moved to giving him many enthusiastic kisses.
4. Maison du Chocolat (22 euros)
Maison du Chocolat sells two versions- a classic round version with frangipane, and a chocolate sandwiched version. The chocolate galette costs a whopping 44 euros, so I settled for the classic one and bought as well a mini chocolate version. A very good decision as it turned out, as their classic galette is the worst of the entire bunch. Flaccid pastry on top, tough on the bottom layer, and a thin nondescript layer of frangipane that absolutely did not taste like it was worth the exorbitant 22 euros, let alone the 10-12 euros that would more be the norm in neighbourhood bakeries. The whimsical fève of micro macarons redeemed things somewhat, and their crown is of a clever design, so some small consolations there.
The chocolate galette though, is most excellent, sandwiching a generous layer of very smooth, full bodied bittersweet chocolate. Just the thing to impress the in-laws I would say.
BONUS PRIZE though, goes to Sadaharu Aoki. which has a most unconventional galette des rois.
For one, it is in a square shape.
Two, it has delicate leafy pastries richly flavoured with high-umami matcha flavours, embedded generously with toasty white and black sesames.
Three, the fillings include whole azuki beans, azuki paste and a light frangipane layer that has just that right balance of almond perfume to balance with the red bean sweetness. Totally delicious.
Four, it comes in a very classy packaging, with gold cardboard base and a neat box whereas everyone else just gives you the cake in a flimsy paper bag. Still, the crown is as generic as the rest.
Five, the fève is gorgeous, a coloured glass heart pendant/ decoration that is coddled in its own protective paper wrapping.
Six, all this for 21 euros which does sound competitive against the Maison du Chocolat classic methinks.
These 'king cakes', as we call them at home, will continue to be available until month's end, and we intend to go on sampling more. In the meantime, enjoy looking at the beautiful layers of the Sadaharu Aoki masterpiece.