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Catholic Recipe: Gateau des Rois (1)


  • 2 sticks butter or margarine
  • 1 1/4 cups icing (confectioners) sugar
  • 3/4 cup plain flour
  • 3/4 cup ground rice (substitute with flour if unavailable)
  • grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites 

    Butter Icing:

  • 6 tbsp butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups icing (confectioners) sugar
  • juice of half a lemon


Yield: 1 cake

Prep Time: 1 1/2-2 hours

Difficulty:  ★★☆☆

Cost:  ★★☆☆

For Ages: 15+

Origin: France


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Also Called: Twelfth Night Cake

The tradition of a Twelfth Night cake goes back seven hundred years. In England it is mentioned in the royal accounts at the court of Edward II. In France in the thirteenth century the monks of Mont St. Michel are known to have celebrated with a cake known as Gateau des Rois. There are various customs attached to this cake and many recipes for it. However, the main purpose is to choose a king and queen to rule over the party celebrations. This is done by putting a dry bean into the cake. Whoever gets the piece with the bean becomes the king. He then chooses himself a queen. If a lady receives the bean she chooses herself a king. Sometimes a child sits under the table and calls out the name of each person to be served with the next piece of cake. The king and queen are given crowns to wear, all others present choose a ticket from a dish with the name of the character they are to be - such as Sir Gregory Goose, Duchess of Daffodil, Miss Tink-a-Tink, Tom Tough and so on.

In France the Gateau des Rois usually has three kings on top. These can still be bought in French shops. But a cut-out king or even three crowns can be used if you make your own cake. These could be gold for the gift of gold which signifies Jesus' kingship; white for the gift of frankincense which signifies Jesus' holiness; and purple for the gift of myrrh which signifies Jesus' death.


1. Cream together the butter and lemon rind.

2. Beat in the icing sugar.

3. Sift the flour and ground rice together and add one third to the mixture.

4. Add two egg yolks and mix in, then add a further third of the flour and rice mixture. Continue until all the egg yolks, flour and rice are blended.

5. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the other mixture.

6. Turn into two greased 10 in./25.4 cm cake tins and bake at 350 degrees for about one hour or until firm to the touch. Allow to cool.

7. Make up the butter icing by mixing together the three ingredients and beating until smooth. Sandwich the two cakes together and spread a layer of icing on top. Decorate as desired with three crowns, a king or a star.

Recipe Source: Feasting for Festivals by Jan Wilson, Lion Publishing Corporation, Batavia, Illinois, 1990