It’s no surprise when a Creole tradition splashes over into Houston’s own cuisine—we are Gulf Coast buddies with Louisiana, after all. But those dishes aren't limited to spicy gumbo and hefty po’ boys. Celebrants looking for a tri-colored, crown-shaped king cake in Houston should have no trouble come Mardi Gras.
But a month before we dig into that purple, green and gold party cake on February 9, why not try its more demure, sophisticated fraternal twin? Memorial-area restaurant Bistro Provence has been serving a traditional French iteration of the king cake, or galette des rois, for the past 10 years. The bistro initially served the cake by the slice as a dessert menu option, but French ex-pat regulars loved it so much that Bistro Provence began selling whole cakes ready to order.
Bistro Provence’s galette is the real deal; its recipe stems from owner Genevieve Guy’s grandfather, who did the opposite of wasting his youth, cooking his way across France (a culinary tour de France, if you will) instead.
This year, Bistro Provence will offer two sizes of the galette: a modest, family-style cake and a larger one for bigger New Year's fêtes. The galette recipe handed down from Guy’s grandfather remains unchanged, except Guy doubles the almonds in the restaurant’s version. Hey, this is Texas—you go big or go home.
The galette is made to celebrate King’s Day, alternatively known as Epiphany, which is 12 days after Christmas (January 6), when the Three Kings reached the infant Jesus in Bethlehem. Traditionally, a ceramic baby Jesus figurine is baked into the pastry. Whoever finds the trinket in his or her slice of galette is king or queen for the day and wears a paper crown to prove his or her daylong reign. These days, patisseries may opt for fun, non-religious figurines in place of baby Jesus, from mini statues of iconic movie heroes to teeny cartoon characters.
Bistro Provence’s cake, though staying true to the classic French sensibility with light, flaky pastry filled with a thick and comforting almond blend, won’t hide any statuettes amongst its slices: Guy shies away from adding a potential choking hazard to any of her edibles. “It’s America, you just never know what will happen,” Guy jokes.
For those who are partial to the customary surprise, Guy suggests cutting a small hole in the bottom of the cake to stuff it with the relic of your choice. Bistro Provence does, however, provide the paper crown, so someone is guaranteed to be treated like royalty for the day.
For Guy, the best part of enjoying the galette, besides its comforting sweetness, is the nostalgia she associates with the French custom. Naturally, the restaurateur has strong memories of enjoying the galette with her closest family members.
“The kids get excited about it,” Guy explains. “There’s the expectation of getting [the figurine], and sometimes if an adult gets it, then they put it on the side and send the kid back into the kitchen to get sugar for the tea or something, and then we put the little baby Jesus back in the cake. It’s always a fun time.”
Regular-size galette $28, Party-size price TBD. Order by January 5. Bistro Provence, 13616 Memorial Dr., 713-827-8008, bistroprovence.us