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Friday, Jan. 4, 2013


French 'cakes' fit for three kings

Here in Japan, few outside the Christian community have heard of Epiphany. Fewer still celebrate this feast day, otherwise known as the Adoration of the Magi, which commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Men often depicted in Western religious art and referenced in many Christmas carols. But that hasn't stopped one of the day's most delectable manifestations from making a niche for itself at Tokyo patisserie shops.

News photo
Pastry prize: Galette des Rois, with feve. ROBBIE SWINNERTON

Galette des Rois — literally "flat cake of the Kings" — is a northern French custom. It consists of a pie case of flaky puff pastry filled with a rich, sweet layer of frangipane, a paste made from powdered almonds. Hidden inside this "cake," which is usually big enough to share among a whole family, is a lucky trinket (known as la fève), made of porcelain. The person who gets the portion of galette containing the fève is crowned as "king" for the day.

In the last few years, Galettes des Rois have started appearing on the shelves of a number of specialist French bakeries in Tokyo. They are now a standard seasonal specialty at the Viron bakeries in Marunouchi and Shibuya, those of Joel Robuchon (Marunouchi, Roppongi, Ebisu and Shibuya) and at Paul, which has branches around the city.

You will also find them for sale at Gontran Cherrier, a bright new bakery/cafe close to Shibuya Station. The scion of a Parisian bread-making family, Cherrier himself is a rising star in the French baking firmament, thanks in no small part to his Hollywood good looks and fashionably dishevelled rock-star appearance. He is producing two styles of Epiphany cake, one with the standard almond paste (¥2,300), the other filled with creamed pistachio (¥2,800).

When it comes to pedigree, few patisseries can hold a candle to Dalloyau. Founded in Paris 300 years ago, it is now celebrating the 30th anniversary of opening its first Tokyo store, right on the main thoroughfare in Ginza. Despite its venerable status, it is not shy of breaking with tradition.

Alongside its classic Galette des Rois, it is making a deluxe version topped with raspberries and other berry fruits — its so-called Galette au Fruit (¥3,360). It is also offering a smaller version with frangipane filling (¥473) that is just the right size for singles, though it comes without a fève.

But the most intriguing version is that made by Sadaharu Aoki, a Japanese pâtissier based in Paris, whose bijou sweets, macaroons and éclairs are sold here at outlets as sleek and polished as any jewelry boutiques. Besides the traditional frangipane-filled cakes, he has also developed a crossover Japanese version stuffed with a smooth paste of adzuki beans and matcha green tea (each ¥3,200; available through Jan. 10). Both are excellent, and come not only with a fève hidden inside, but also a silver crown for the person lucky enough to find it.

Viron: (03) 5220-7289, (03) 5458 1770; www.marunouchi.com/common/JP/shop/detail.cgi?SH_MSH_code=3018. Gontran Cherrier: (03) 6418-9581; www.gontran-cherrier.jp. Dalloyau: (03) 3289-8260; www.dalloyau.co.jp. Sadaharu Aoki: (03) 5293-2800; www.sadaharuaoki.com.

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