It’s only 6th January, but already feels, with everything that has happened, as if we are months into this year. It’s been a stressful few days trying to establish what is happening, following the latest announcement about lockdown in England, but yesterday everything became clearer, when Tom’s University confirmed
that as his course is considered to be essential, he will be back on campus, with some face to face lectures from Monday.
So he will head back tomorrow, then Andy has his PCR test booked and (all being well) will travel back down over the weekend, as soon as he knows he is free of the virus. It feels as if he has been away for weeks, rather than days and it will be lovely to have him home again (although I think we will just be waiting for the next wrinkle in the fabric of life).
In fact that wrinkle has now happened (whilst I have been writing) and the University have changed their
information, saying late this afternoon that he is not to go back, so we are now in totally uncharted waters and all our plans have had to be cancelled!
Today though, also happens to be Epiphany, so it’s a great opportunity to make (and eat) cake. Although not just any cake, as the day is traditionally celebrated with either a Galette or a Brioche Des Rois, recognising the 12th day of Christmas, when the three Magi arrived to offer gifts to the newborn baby.
It’s a tradition that dates back centuries, with well-recognised rituals that come with eating the scented and delicious cakes. I say cakes, as there are really two different types,
Firstly is the ‘Galette des Rois’, based on the Pithiviers cake, formed of flat, golden discs of light and flaky, puff pastry filled with an almond scented ‘Frangipane’ filling. A decadent and delicious patisserie…
The second, and one that seems to be much more of a tradition here in Provence, is the ‘Brioche des Rois’ , a rich, buttery, brioche hoop, scented with orange-flower water and studded with pieces of the local ‘fruits confits’.
It seems totally appropriate that I should err towards the Brioche, rather than the Galette, as Apt is the heart of the production of ‘fruits confits’, and each year hosts a festival celebrating these sugar-glazed delights. The
local fields and orchards that groan with produce during the summer, provide the sun-ripened, flavorsome fruits, that are then steeped in a sugar syrup over a period of days, before they are dried and glazed, ready to be eaten.
It goes without saying that this is a major local industry, and the finished product is simply delicious, but I’d better get back to the cake, before I get too carried away. It isn’t just the cake that is traditional, but also the
inclusion of a little ‘feve’, a little trinket that is hidden in the cake, with the finder becomes ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ for the day, and gets to wear the paper crown that is sold with the cake.
These feves are now made of porcelain, or plastic, but in the past it may have been a gold coin, or a fava bean, which gave it’s name to the current trinket.
I understand that in the 14th century, it was tradition that whoever pulled out the slice of cake containing the ‘feve’ had to buy the ‘King’s drinks’, a round for everyone else that was present. Now it is much more of a tradition that the peron who wins the ‘feve’ and wears the crown, is also tasked with buying the cake the following year.
Another tradition that developed around it, is that of cutting an extra slice, to enable it to be given to an unexpected guest, or given to the poor, although whether this still happens to any extent, I’m really not sure.
So today, after a week of grey skies, bitter temperatures and snow, I headed off to Simiane La Rotonde to walk Millie and buy some bits from the boulangerie. It was a spectacular day, with the snow of 2 days ago, still lying
deeply across the lavender fields, high above the village.
Millie and I crunched our way up the steep, snow-covered path to the plateau, where there were incredible views across the valley, dusted in snow
With the ancient collapsed Bories, wearing a thick, white layer, kept cold in the shade of the trees, and the bitter north-easterly breeze…
Millie was in her element, scampering up the track, biting the snow at the side of the path, and of course taking any opportunity she could, to roll in it.
I do love this walk, with the views making every step of the climb worthwhile, although today I came back the way I had gone up, as I didn’t relish coming down the steep, rocky route we normally take, which is always a
bit of a challenge, but would have been even worse under the layer of ice and snow.
Simiane looked stunning under the bright blue sky, and by the time we got back to the car, and headed around to the boulangerie, I had certainly worked up an appetite.
I had intended buying a Brioche des Rois, but as I looked at them, I realised that they really are made for sharing, and buying one that would feed 8-10 people, would have been a bit of a waste as I only have Millie and Pusscat to share it with. I was happy I’d worked up an appetite, enough for a single pain au chocolat, not a cake designed to feed at least 2 families!
That said they did look delicious, and so I thought I would try to make a small one for myself. I checked the recipe and realised I had all the ingredients, so this afternoon have been mixing, pummelling and stretching the dough to make my own personal Brioche de Rois for this evening. Normally it should have longer to prove and swell, but I’m an impatient beast and so will see how I get on with the time, and lack of kitchen!
Once the initial dough was made, I popped it in a sunny spot on the table and left it to rise…
Happily it did what it was meant to do and about 3 hours later was considerably larger, so I knocked it down to get all the air out and shaped it into the traditional ring shape, cutting into it, to pack the centre of the
dough with pieces of fruit, before sealing it closed again.
I then popped it on the table in front of the fire, to rise again for another hour, by which time it was looking rather good.
It was then glazed with egg and milk & popped into our terribly temperamental old oven for 20 minutes, whilst I worried that it would either not cook at all, and come out still soggy, or that it would be simply cremated and come out a burnt offering!
I needn’t have worried though, as when I opened the door it looked perfectly cooked. The shape had gone a bit awry, as the central hole had disappeared, so it was more of a hat than a crown shape, but apart from that, it was pretty good.
So after cutting it and eating a slice (or two), I am happy to declare myself Queen for the rest of the day ….. Now where’s my Crown?