In the bleak midwinter Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, Long ago.
– Christina Rossetti, 1872
The steely winter continues. We stay huddled indoors, no desire to emerge from our cosy cocoon and no longing to spend more time than necessary out in this intemperate weather. No snow to brighten, no snow to gladden and excite, drawing us outdoors like wide-eyed children, bundled up against the chill, damp mittens tossing snowballs at each other. Simply gray days, indecisive weather, no cheer. Mornings spent cooking, afternoons lolling about, evenings in front of the tv, weekends watching rugby, this bleak midwinter is so perfectly formed for family time and for eating. Husband has a good old-fashioned Pot au Feu simmering on the stovetop, hearty and comforting, and I attempt to perfect my puff pastry, my Galette des Rois.
It was late November, I think, and I was thinking about the whole Christmas thing:
the birth of Christ, the Wizard of Oz, family murders, and quite frankly, I was depressed.
– Joe Harper, In The Bleak Midwinter, Kenneth Branagh, 1995
January lies ungraciously halfway along the darkened road of winter. From gorgeous autumn days under a brilliant sun, brisk walks among the fallen leaves in shades of gold and sepia, crimson and copper, October and November energize and invigorate. November into glorious December shines, the occasional misty rain dances among the clouds and reminds me of searching for snails among the thick, waist-high reeds edging the trees surrounding our Italian house, children romping through the fields playing pirates with a great lumbering dog behind. Autumn’s bounty of pumpkins, figs, chestnuts and mushrooms brings the promise of holidays. December hung with colored lights and festive garlands and no matter the slurries of mist spattering against the window and illuminated in the halo of bright streetlights against the inky blackness of the night, we are happy and excited in anticipation, our mouths watering for holiday fare.
Yet January from end to end, from corks popping on the first of the year to my birthday at the end there is little to celebrate. We muddle along, protecting ourselves from the dreariness outside. Son heads back to class, dragging his exhausted body – exhausted from two weeks’ lack of sleep - out of the house. And husband and I cook. And bake. And watch Nouvelle Star and rugby.
Our work weighs on us as we plod into 2013, waiting for grand new adventures to start. Husband dances and sings through the house in a grand effort to remain cheerful and not let his own worries drag him down. I chatter with my alter ego who keeps me in line as we plan projects together, spurring each other on and making each other laugh. Husband and I gather our energy and continue the final touches on the apartment – almost there! And little by little new projects do fall into my lap, take form, and the excitement begins to take hold. And meanwhile, I bake.
I had half of my batch of puff pastry leftover from my Cinnamon Caramelized Apple Galettes des Rois – not to mention half of the apple filling – and was determined to finally make the perfect Galette, even, thin, flaky with a perfectly golden glaze. I had all day ahead of me, the time to plan, organize and work slowly and patiently, normally not my habitual state. I had been craving a pastry cream filling, smooth and luscious. As apples are a favorite of my husband in any dessert, I decided that nothing would be better than the rest of those caramelized apples folded into the perfect vanilla pastry cream. And so I got to work.
GALETTE DES ROI WITH VANILLA BEAN APPLE PASTRY CREAM
Half a batch of Puff Pastry or 21 oz (600 g) puff pastry
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (recipe follows)
Egg wash (1 large egg yolk + 1 tsp cold water)
Confectioner’s/Powdered Sugar for dusting
1 fève/bean/charm with 1 paper crown
Prepare the Galette des Rois:
Remove the chilled puff pastry from the refrigerator and measure and cut about half the batch (21 oz / 600 g). Cut into two halves. Working one of the pieces at a time, roll each on a baking-sheet-sized piece of parchment paper into a large square/circle between 1/8 and ¼ - inch thick (the dough can be rolled out thicker for a puffier Galette but I wanted a rather thin Galette with more filling to pastry); the pastry should be large/wide enough to cut out a circle approximately 9 ½ inches (24 cm) diameter. Place a template (a ring mold, ring of a springform pan or even a dinner plate) on the pastry dough and, using a sharp knife carefully and slowly cut around the template forming a circle, being careful not to stretch or pull the dough.
Since Galettes are not baked in a pan or mold, the size can vary as you like.
Cover each of the two puff pastry rounds with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the pastry cream.
VANILLA BEAN PASTRY CREAM
Smaller batch Pastry Cream:
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbs (90 g) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter (preferably at room temperature)
Small pinch salt
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk (I used 2% low fat)
½ tsp vanilla or ½ a vanilla bean, split down the center, seeds scraped out
Larger batch Pastry Cream:
3 Tbs cornstarch
½ cup (100 g) sugar
1 large whole egg
3 large egg yolks
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter (preferably at room temperature)
2 cups (500 ml) milk (I use 2% low fat)
1 tsp vanilla or 1 vanilla bean, split down the center, seeds scraped out
Sift the cornstarch into a medium-large heatproof bowl and stir or whisk with half the sugar. Add the whole egg and yolks and whisk until smooth and thick.
Place the butter, the remaining sugar, the pinch of salt, the milk and both the vanilla bean pod and the seeds (if using a bean) in a saucepan and bring just to the boil. Remove from the heat.
Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture in a slow stream a ladleful at a time, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not curdle or begin to cook; this will gradually heat the eggs. Once all of the hot milk has been added to the egg mixture, pour it all back into the casserole and return to a very low heat. Whisking constantly, bring the cream to a gentle boil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. The pastry cream may thicken rapidly but cooking for 2 minutes or so eliminates the cornstarch flavor.
If using liquid vanilla extract, add it to the cooked pastry cream. If using the vanilla bean, remove the pod and discard; the dark speckles seen in my pastry cream are the seeds.
I added and stirred in the cinnamon caramelized apple chunks leftover from my Caramelized Apple Galettes des Rois – about 2 apples of chunks.
Immediately pour and scrape the pastry cream into a clean heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pushing the plastic onto the surface of the cream to keep a skin from forming. Allow the cream to cool slightly as you prepare the puff pastry; do not prepare this too far in advance or cool too much as the pastry cream must still be soft and creamy enough to easily spread on the puff pastry round.
Assemble the Galette:
Remove the two pastry rounds from the refrigerator and discard the plastic. Choose one round to be the bottom of the galette and, leaving it on the parchment-lined baking sheet, gently press the edges out a bit with your fingers to enlarge the circle slightly. Mound enough of the cooled vanilla bean pastry cream filling in the center of the disc of dough to a thickness of about ½ inch (1 cm) but no more than ¾ inch, leaving about a ½ inch (1 cm) – 3/4 inch 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 filling, if desired.
Brush the edge all around with a light coating of 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, pressing to have at least one finger width of pastry around all the edges well sealed.
Using a sharp knife held perpendicular to the table, cut into the side edges of the dough to create a scalloped edge all around to the cakes. Now carefully carve a design into the top of the cakes (not too deeply into the dough), making a couple or few small vents through the dough. Brush the top and sides of the galette lightly with egg wash. Place the baking tray in the refrigerator for the time the oven takes to preheat.
Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
Place the baking tray with the Galette in the hot oven and bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed up and golden.
Reduce the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C) and continue baking for an additional 25 - 30 minutes until the top and the sides of the pastry are golden and crisp and the pastry is well risen. If you think the pastry is browning too quickly, simply lay a piece of foil over the top.
Remove the Galette from the oven and move the rack up one notch. 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 once you have the perfect glaze it can very quickly, in the flash of an eye, burn! You must watch so you can pull it out of the oven just as the last of the top turns a gorgeous shiny 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 serving.
If serving a Galette des Rois with a fêve inside, 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!