“No Galette des Rois!” he wails. “No Galette des Rois?” the other asks in astonishment, then shaking his head in utter disdain. Indignation hung heavy in the air, the disappointment so thick one could cut it with a knife. Hopes were blighted and I feared irretrievable, inconsolable damage to our familial relations. Crestfallen faces, harsh reprimands as they pointed accusing fingers at the half-eaten cakes sitting on the table, the cookies that I had insisted upon making at no one’s request all the while allowing the 6th of January, le Jour des Rois Mages, Epiphany, to slide by without so much as a glance, a second thought or, as they haven’t stopped reminding me, a single Galette des Rois.
The message was loud and clear: I had somehow failed my family. How could I have misread the signs, turned my back on something that carried such weight and significance for them? How could I not know that in the midst of all of their complaining about the constant onslaught of baked goods that they would much rather do without that they were each waiting for, expecting, craving a Galette des Rois? Backing away at each sarcastic word, every bitter accusation, unable to answer their “You didn’t?!” “Why not?” and “What were you thinking?” I swore that I would right this wrong and give them just what they wanted.
My family is indeed a confusion of mixed messages, a riot of paradox and irony. One minute they are shouting food abuse, too much, too often, too sweet. The next they are requesting this treat or that, lamenting that the cupboard is bare, charging me with neglect. Or wondering how it is that I have forgotten or have chosen to ignore this holiday or that event. Guilty as charged! Year in and year out, the rules change, Hanukkah or Christmas, New Year’s Eve or not, Passover, Easter, Valentine’s Day, each fête, holiday or celebration leads to a monument of negotiation, discussion, argument and compromise. Shoulders shrugged when asked opinions, each in turn saying that it doesn’t much matter, that it is all up to me. And all the baked goods that accompany each special day? “We could really do without more cake!” each exclaims with a shudder. So how could I know that this year they would want, were absolutely waiting for a Galette des Rois, a special treat one eats on Epiphany, a religious festival we don't even celebrate?
We often talk of comfort food these days, a trend that seems to return with each economic crisis and financial dip, foods we turn to with each bump in the road, each life-changing event or difficult choice we face. We think of foods that bring us back to an uncomplicated, safe childhood full of dreams, foods rich and warming filled with the aroma and coziness of grandma’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. Cravings that may change and evolve or that may be different for each one of us; being in a mixed cultural marriage it has been clear from the beginning that the food I turn to for comfort and well-being is not always want he craves when the need arises. But no matter the food, it has the same meaning for all of us. Comfort.
But as comforting as many foods are for us: warm rice pudding or steaming, spicy couscous when the blustery weather threatens and moods turn sour; chocolate cake or a stack of chocolate chip cookies when times get tough; a bowl of ice cream slathered with hot fudge sauce after a harrowing trip to the doctor’s or after a workday of stress; a hot dog nestled in a soft bun with a side of greasy fries or a slice of fresh baguette smeared with tangy goat cheese while sitting in the softest, most comfortable spot of the sofa when difficult decisions are waiting impatiently to be made; there is also much comfort in rituals as well. Following a certain, expected rhythm, ticking off special dates on the calendar and the planning and organizing, the anticipation and the final culmination of a particular celebration or event, no matter how small, no matter how simple, grounds us, reassures us, comforts us. And sometimes it is the food that symbolizes these events that instills a warm contentment that if all comes as planned and expected then all is well in the world: a fresh, tender, golden sweet Challah welcoming the Shabbat; potato latkes on Hanukkah; bûche and orangettes for Christmas and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and, of course Galette des Rois on the sixth day of January. As each of these foods appear on our table with regularity, like clockwork, we know that in this mad, hectic, unpredictable world that there are still some things that we can always count on.
And here I was, skipping this ever-anticipated treat, shunning this yearly custom. Beginning just after the New Year, glass cases in every French pastry shop are lined with this traditional, buttery confection, two layers of golden, crisp puff pastry filled not only with the traditional almond cream but with chocolate or fruit fillings as well. Every year I buy one or two over the course of the week or two of their short-lived appearance and we all enjoy these wonderful, rich cakes. And these last two years I have even baked one myself. Excitement mounts as the slices are passed from hand to hand and the first bites are taken. The golden crown sits in the center of the table just waiting for one of us to find the special fève nestled deep inside one lucky eater’s slice. The one who perchance discovers the token, the coveted prize, hidden in a mouthful is crowned king or queen of the day. The tradition, the delectable treat and the glory of being crowned have become an important part of a comforting rhythm of our year, a gentle slide from rambunctious holiday season into the normal, risky, uncertain rest of the year.
The plate is set before me, the aroma of warm pastry and almonds whirls and swirls up and around my head. I inhale deeply and breath in all the goodness, the scent of cozy winter afternoons in front of a roaring fire, snowy days bundled up under a thick blanket, dog at my feet, a mug of hot tea in my hand and this delicacy, this thing of beauty placed before me. Layer upon layer of flaky golden pastry, its sugary, buttery flakes cradling a rich, rum-kissed frangipane in which hides a very special prize. And like all great French fashion, it comes with the perfect accessory: a golden crown. The Galette des Rois, proudly displayed for a few short weeks of January in every pâtisserie across France, has finally found its way to my table. It took me a few extra days, but I rolled out luxurious, smooth puff pastry from a recipe shared with me by my wonderful, talented friend Gail, The One Tough Cookie, and switched out the traditional almond frangipane with pistachio and added a swirl of cherry preserves for an added fruity sweetness.
This piece on Comfort Food is part of a series for France Roundtable hosted by Christine of Why Go France. This little French Roundtable is made up of a group of five bloggers who have gathered together to share our love, experience and knowledge of this country we call home. This month’s topic is French Comfort Food. Although my French husband and I often turn to such wonderful and comforting foods as Riz au Lait, Blanquette de Veau, even a plateful of local oysters, cool and nutty with a squeeze of lemon to soothe what ails us, the events and festivities that dot our calendar have become reference points, a way to find rhythm to our year, signposts along our well-traveled, often hectic and uncertain road. And from the unexpected reaction of my son and husband when January 6 rolled around and there was no Galette to be seen just shows me how much they hold onto these heart-warming symbols, these yearly customs and rituals that console and delight simply in their regular and well-regulated appearance. Comforting, indeed.
Please visit the the other members of the French Roundtable to see what French foods they turn to when comfort is required…
Why Go France
Chez Loulou (oops! absent this month!)
Food Lover’s Odyssey
GALETTE DES ROIS or KING’S CAKE
Puff Pastry (recipe follows) or enough store-bought for 2 x ½-inch thick x 8 ½-inch rounds
2 ½ oz (70 g) sugar
2 oz (60 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
1 large egg
2 ½ oz (70 g) ground almonds or pistachios
¼ tsp vanilla
1 Tbs rum
2 Tbs cherry jam or preserves, optional
Egg wash (1 yolk whisked with 1 tsp cold water)
Icing/powdered sugar for dusting the top of the Galette
Prepare the Frangipane filling:
Beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy. Beat in the egg, the ground almonds or pistachios, the vanilla and the rum. Add more vanilla or rum to taste, if desired. Place the filling in a small bowl covered with plastic wrap or in a lidded plastic container and refrigerate until ready to use. It needs to firm up before assembling the cake.
To prepare the Galette des Rois:
Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of ½ inch (1 cm) and not less than 3/8 inch, long and wide enough to cut out two 8 ½-inch (21 cm) discs. Using a cake tin or plate of about 8 ½-inches (21 cm) diameter and using a very sharp knife, trace and cut out two discs. Place each disc carefully on parchment-lined baking sheets, cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Stack remaining dough (don’t mash together into a ball as you would other dough), wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for another use.
Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Remove prepared rounds of puff pastry. Choose one to be the bottom of the cake and gently press the edges out a bit with your fingers to enlarge the circle slightly. Remove the chilled frangipane from the fridge and, if desired, swirl a tablespoon or two of cherry preserves through it and then mound in the center of the bottom disc of dough. Press it flat and out, using the back of a soupspoon, leaving about 1 ½ inches (4 cm) border of dough free around the edges. Press a fève, a ceramic charm of some sort, or even an old-fashioned dried bean or a coin into the almond cream.
Paint this wide edge of the dough around the frangipane filling lightly with the egg wash (too wet and the top disc may slide during baking). Gently place the second disc of dough on top of the filling placing the top and bottom discs edge to edge (so the edges meet all the way around), gently stretching the top disc if needed so the edges line up. Press to seal tightly.
Place a bowl upside down on top of the discs – the bowl should come up to ½ to 1 inch from the edges. Using a sharp knife held perpendicular to the table, cut into the dough to create a scalloped edge to the cake. Now carefully carve a design into the top of the cake (not too deeply into the dough). Cut a small circle in the center of the top dough disc and insert a chimney (make a chimney out of parchment or foil or, as I did, use an upside down aluminum pastry bag tip).
Brush the top and sides of the dough with egg wash. Place in the hot oven and bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown. If you think the pastry is browning too quickly, simply lay a piece of foil over the top.
Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C) and continue baking for an additional 25 to 30 minutes until the sides of the pastry are also golden and crisp and the pastry is well risen.
Remove the Galette from the oven and move the rack up one notch. Protecting your hand with an oven mitt or kitchen towel, gently and carefully lift out the chimney. Generously dust the entire top surface of the Galette with powdered sugar (using a sieve or sifter) then place the pastry back in the oven. Now bake for around 5 minutes until the sugar has turned to a golden and very shiny glaze. Stand next to your oven and watch because it turns to the perfect glaze very quickly then in the flash of an eye burns! You must watch so you can pull it out of the oven just as the last of the top turns a gorgeous deep golden and not leave it one second longer.
Remove the Galette from the oven and slide the parchment paper off onto a cooling rack. Allow the Galette to cool before slicing and serving.
Make sure there is a child under the table while the host cuts the Galette and then passes each slice as the child calls out whom to serve. Have a paper crown ready to crown the King or Queen who finds the charm!
PUFF PASTRY – Pate Feuilletée
Recipe from Gail of One Tough Cookie using my own procedure
Click here to see step-by-step images of how to put together your own perfect Puff Pastry!
8.8 oz (250 g) cake flour
8.8 oz (250 g) bread flour (type 55)
2.5 oz (70 g) softened butter
2 tsps table salt
1 cup (250 ml) cold water
8.8 oz (250 g) cold unsalted butter
The détrempe or the basic dough can easily be made in a food processor, but I did this by hand in a snap.
Blend the 2 flours and the salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter cut into cubes and rub into the dry ingredients until it has disappeared. Add the chilled water all at once and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough starts to pull together. Add a tablespoon or two more if needed. Scrape out onto a well-floured work surface and knead for just a few minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable.
Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.
Incorporating the Butter:
Place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square 1" thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or becomes oily, chill it before continuing.
Remove the dough from the fridge. Working on a well-floured surface, roll out the dough into an approximately 10” square. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick center pad with "ears," or flaps. Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. (If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don't just pull the ends) you should now have a package that is 8" square. Make sure it stays cool at all times; if need be just pop the whole thing in the fridge regularly for a few minutes until it firms up again.
Making the Turns:
Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square “package” to seal, thus ensuring the dough stays square. Keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured, roll the dough into a rectangle, perpendicular to your body, 3 times as long as wide (24” long, the width may vary between 8” and 9” but don’t worry).
Brush off all excess flour from the dough and fold the bottom of the dough up (mark off 8” down from the top and align the edge of the folded dough to this). Again brush off excess flour from the folded up portion and bring down the top remaining third so the edge comes to the bottom edge (the dough is now folded into thirds, all edges even and no gaps). Pull gently on the corners if need be so there are no gaps. Gently but firmly press the rolling pin on the edges to “seal” so when rolling again the edges stay aligned.
Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left like the spine of a book. Repeat the rolling and the folding process one more time (you’ll now be rolling and folding in the other direction). Once it is rolled out and folded again into thirds, you have just completed the second turn. If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy and beginning to soften, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you've completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.
The total number of turns needed is six. If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.