- Milan Kundera
Get me going and I can’t stop. Offer me a challenge or tell me you love something. Or worse (according to critics): all I need is a roaring success after having put off attempting something for fear of failure or daunted by difficulty for far too long and off I go! Just the tiniest encouragement, the most minor of successes or just one person I love to look at me and say “Oh, this is good!” with passion oozing in their voice and I only want to do one thing: make it again. And again.
Until they cry Uncle! But that’s another story.
Puff pastry had eluded me for years, from the very first moment I saw a chef pounding a square of butter with a rolling pin and enclosing it in the perfect envelope of pastry to one January to the next when each and every pâtisserie parades a glorious lineup of stunning Galette des Rois, shimmering gold surface hiding a perfect frangipane filling encased in ethereal flakey layers in which nestles a tiny fêve, the prize which renders he or she who finds this porcelain treasure king or queen for the day. But all that butter, all that effort and all that precision had me shaking in my boots. I didn’t put rolling pin to butter for years. I had overcome my macaron fears and my yeast bread anxiety so what, I asked myself, could be so terrifying, so complicated about puff pastry?
Pâte feuilletée – say it in French and somehow it sounds so sophisticated, so unattainable. No quick toss of ingredients in a bowl, whisk together in a flash, pour into a tin and pop in the oven. No, siree! No quick in, quick out and settle back to enjoy the fruits of your labor in less time than it takes to learn how to pronounce…or spell… pâte feuilletée. The wonder and charm of American baking is the rapidity and simplicity of its preparation, its ease in eating. Think muffins and brownies packed in a lunch box, stacks of cookies carried around in small hands, one-bowl cakes and quick breads. French baking, on the other hand, is known for its fiddly, complicated, time-consuming preparation making each pastry a gem, a special treat to be wrapped up in white paper, tied with a bow and carried home like a treasure, to be eaten off of delicate bone china and with grandmama’s best sterling dessert forks. American sweets are comfort food, reminders of our childhood, simple and homey. French pastry is, well, pastry. Puffs and elegant layers, ethereal mousses and delicate creams, whirls of spun sugar and perfect piping. This may all be a wild generalization, but when faced with the daunting task before me, when a huge block of sweet butter sits and gazes up at me from my tabletop, eying me up and down, daring me to proceed, well, that tin of muffins starts to look pretty darn good!
So, deep breath, one, two, and three and I pounded and I rolled, all smooth going, and folded and rolled and I sweated just a bit as butter began to ooze. So quick as a lick, in the fridge it went. Roll, fold, turn, it was easier than I had imagined. And it was such a pleasure! Sensual, smooth even slightly sexy in its soft, silky texture when caressed, its pleasant, voluptuous give when pressed, its heavenly feminine scent of fresh butter and flour. My very first homemade puff pastry, my very first home-baked Galette des Rois was applauded by all, my harshest critics, my toughest judges, my row of Frenchmen! And I was spurred on to create more! And a first batch followed a second led onto a third until I was in my rhythm and could churn out pâte feuilletée on a whim! Quiche followed Jalousie followed Galette and I was in my element! A quick back and forth with Cookie Queen Gail who shared her own recipe, slightly different than mine, and enjoyment turned into rapture! Beauty into wondrous splendor.
And out came the first much-demanded, much-expected Galette of this year to loud cheers! Kudos! Adulation! They were putty in my hands…so when I began yet another batch of puff pastry and mentioned apples – with visions of Chaussons de Pommes, French Apple Turnovers, dancing before our eyes, they bowed down to my wishes and let me have my way.
A tale of a Galette aux Pommes…. Slow and lazy, I had been promising this new Galette des Rois for days yet kept putting it off. Until he started asking. And making comments, his patience wearing thin. So I finally began. Détrempe, envelope, rolling and two folds. The following day…nothing. Well, a girl is busy! Then the third day he began hanging around the kitchen door, fork clenched between fingers. “Where is this Galette you’re supposed to be making?” he urged, a mixture of reproach and anticipation in his voice. So apples peeled, sliced, sautéed in butter, sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon… heavenly odors filled the house. Pâte Feuilletée rolled, cut, shaped, filled, baked. And a superb Galette des Rois filled with smooth, luxurious apple compote redolent of maple and cinnamon was theirs and they did enjoy it with much pleasure and glee.
Until the next batch…
GALETTE DES ROIS AUX POMMES
Puff Pastry Galette filled with Maple Cinnamon Applesauce
½ batch puff pastry (about 600 g)
egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp cold water)
APPLE COMPOTE FILLING
You can always make more and keep the extra on hand for tasty applesauce!
4 apples, preferably Belle de Boskoop or a similar type, sweet and flavorful for applesauce
1 ½ Tbs (22 g) unsalted butter
1/8 to ¼ cup (25 to 50 grams) granulated sugar
2 to 3 Tbs maple syrup
Peel, core and slice the apples. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the granulated sugar and stir until the mixture is smooth, grainy and bubbling. Add the apple slices and toss to coat; cook the apples until soft, about 5 minutes, then stir in 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon, stir until well blended and continue cooking for up to about 5 minutes more, stirring often, until the apples are very soft and beginning to fall apart into a purée. Remove from the heat and purée, either with a fork or an emulsion mixer; taste and add more maple syrup and/or cinnamon as desired. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Follow the directions for rolling, cutting and chilling the puff pastry on my Galette des Rois with Pistachio-Rum Frangipane Filling post, filling with the apple compote. Seal with egg wash, crimp or scallop the edges, prepare a chimney, gently carve a design in the top, brush with egg wash and bake following the directions. The last 5 minutes of baking, dust the top of the Galette generously with powdered sugar and return to the oven, watching carefully for several minutes, turning the Galette as needed to favor even browning, until the top is a beautiful, caramelized, shiny golden brown.
Allow the Galette to cool on a cooling rack before slicing and eating.