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Butter for Galette des Rois (Twelfth night cake)

9 January 2017

Galette des Rois (Twelfth night cake): the butter used for industrial layering

The King cake has become a widely-consumed product. Its production has transformed from artisanal to industrial in order to meet that ever-growing success.

Over the years, the choice of ingredients has also evolved, nowadays it is determined according to specific technologic criteria. As a dairy raw materials expert, FIT offers you a focus on the most suitable butters for the laminating as required by the King cake.

Origins of the King cake

The King cake (or Twelfth Night cake) season begins twelve days after Christmas and ends the day of Mardi Gras. Celebrated on the day of Epiphany (also known as Three Kings’ day), which corresponds to the introduction of the child Jesus to the three kings (Magi) according to the Christian tradition.

Crowning the one who finds the charm is indeed a much older tradition. Putting a bean within the King cake goes back to the Saturnalia, a festival which was held to honour the god Saturn and the sun during Antiquity at every beginning of  January. A feast was shared between masters and slaves, and a bean (nowadays a porcelain or plastic figurine!) was hidden within a round and golden-looking cake or biscuit which represented and looked like the sun. The one who founded the charm was made the king of the feast.

The current King cake that we all know, composed of puff pastry and frangipane, appeared later on, at the end of the 17th century.

The various kinds of King cake

In France, there are different types of King cake according to the region. The traditional King cake is made of a puff pastry filled with frangipane (the filling). The King cake of Besançon is a dry biscuit made of puff pastry covered with butter and sugar, whereas the Twelfth Night cake popular in the South of France (the “Gateau des Rois”) is a brioche with candied fruits.

Although 70% of French people choose a frangipane King cake, marketing has taken hold of this success and, nowadays, all sorts of King cake are available: with apple, chocolate and even… with rillettes (made up by an inhabitant of the French region Mayenne)!

The King cakes are especially liked by the French, they eat more than 30 millions of these cakes every year between December 26th and the end of January! 97% of the French buy at least one King cake every year!

It represents a significant market for the artisan bakers and for the bakery and Viennese pastries industry.

Focus on the butter used as raw material!

Various kinds of butter are used to make industrial King cakes

Butter, a natural product with high nutritional values and a flavour enhancer, is used twice in the traditional recipe of the King cake: in the filling (butter intended for incorporation) and in the puff pastry.

The choice of the butter (raw material) for the making of industrial puff pastry is essential. The best is to use butter with a rheology (texture, plasticity) identical to the dough. Indeed, the fat must be non-sticky and usable with a machine. Thus, it must have a high plasticity property. Plasticity enables the fat to easily spread during rolling without breaking or rupturing. For puff pastry, the choice will favour hard butter at room temperature. Two butters may meet this criterion:

  • 82% winter butter: Butter is a living matter made of several hundreds of fatty acids with various melting points which give a complex crystallization process. Cattle feeding influences greatly cream composition in fatty acids. The composition in fatty acids determines, depending on their specific melting points, the more or less solid or soft state of butter at room temperature. In summer, cattle feed on grass and hay. Grass-fed cattle usually produce creams that are less rich in stearin, thus softer butters. This butter is also said to be greasy. On the contrary, in winter cattle feed on silage. Diverse feedings produce different fatty acids. Butters made from winter milk are generally harder because richer in saturated fatty acids. These fatty acids are solid at room temperature.
  • Textured butter: It is made thanks to a technology (scraped surface heat exchanger and resting tube) which allows a perfect control of its crystallization. This technology provides specific rheological qualities to the butter. This butter is especially adapted to process puff pastry while keeping the natural melting points of butter, thus preserving its organoleptic qualities. Textured butters may replace winter butters while guaranteeing the appropriate texture and performance on the production line. Thanks to this butter texturing process, it is nowadays possible to guarantee a good layering quality all year long even out of the wintery season when there is no winter butter.