Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.
- Jane Austen
I have made Galette des Rois for the 6th day of January, for Epiphany, for the last few years. This year I did not. I had been craving a good, old-fashioned, all-American apple pie since we began visiting the apple stand at the market early autumn. Crude wooden crates hold tumbles, piles and heaps of apples and pears in shades of red, green, yellow and brown straight from the orchards, straight from the trees. Local apples from Pays de la Loire. The vendors scoop up the apple of one’s choice…. Actually, the vendors, scruffily dressed, wrapped in coarse cotton aprons, yellow plastic glove snug over the scooping hand, lean in towards us over the row of crates in which apples and pears lie snuggly, fragrantly together in the cool winter weather, and ask for our selection. And they expertly translate our answer “apples to eat, crunchy, flavorful, sweet and tart” or “the perfect apple for baking into a pie, one that stays flavorful and sweet while meltingly smooth when cooked” or “apples for sautéing and serving with boudin blanc” into Fuji, Cox Orange, Jonagold, Reine des Reinettes or Grise du Canada.
They scoop up – as they do – six, eight, ten, a kilo or two – into the worn, scratched, battered plastic tubs sitting atop one of the scales then, in one eloquent movement, pour the tubful of apples into a plastic bag and, with a sharp flick or two of the wrist, tie the top of the sack in a knot as they ask for our next desire.
Pie and Coffee is approximately the third best social interaction
a man can hope to have with a woman.
So when husband began feeling ill, coming down with whatever is going around, I offered to make him that apple pie, one of his favorite treats, comfort food at its best. And he smiled and hugged me and said yes.
Making and enjoying a galette des rois has nothing religious about it in our home. It is a French tradition. From just a day or two after Christmas, the Bûches de Noël are replaced by galettes in pastry shop and bakery cases, the tiny Santas and fir trees and mushrooms perched atop waves of chocolate and praline buttercream, atop tiny pastry Yule logs are replaced by flashy gold paper crowns perched atop rounds of puff pastry filled with almond cream, pastry cream or apple purée, a tiny fève or lucky charm hidden within. Making our own galette des rois from scratch was simply a baking exercise for me in much the same way as attempting and perfecting macarons or yeast bread. But for my husband, who suggested my baking a galette the very first time, it might have been a craving, a game or a way to turn my baking energy towards something that we would have purchased and eaten anyway, so why not homemade? We have always loved sitting together around the table as a family on the 6th of January and cutting into the galette, doling out slice after slice and digging in amid laughter and goodhearted chatter, impatient to find out who will discover the good luck charm in his or her slice, the lucky one that will then be designated king or queen for the day, the golden crown placed on their head.
It’s apple pies that make the menfolks’ mouths water.
Pies made from apples like these.
- the Queen in Snow White
But apple pie is so much homier, so much sweeter in both flavor and temperament. A sign not of tradition as much as of love. And surely apple pie – along with laughter - is the best medicine.
If you do want to make a classic Galette des Rois:
Classic Galette des Rois with Frangipane Filling
Galette des Rois with Maple Cinnamon Applesauce Filling
Galette des Rois with Vanilla Bean Apple Pastry Cream Filling
Individual Galettes des Rois with Caramelized Apples
CLASSIC, COMFORTING OLD-FASHIONED APPLE PIE
If you have never made or rolled out a pie crust by hand before, you can find step-by-step photos here.
Sweet Pastry Pie Crust (recipe below)
8 apples, your favorite for pie
½ cup (100 g) sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 Tbs (15 g) unsalted butter, more or less
Cinnamon-Sugar or granulated brown sugar for dusting top of pie
Milk for brushing top of pie
Sweet Pastry Pie Crust for double-crust pie:
2 ½ cups (315 g) flour and more for work surface
½ cup (100 g) sugar
14 Tbs (200 g) unsalted butter, cubed *
2 eggs, lightly beaten
* most pie crust recipes call for the butter to be chilled. I have found that butter at room temperature is easier and quicker to work into the flour and the dough seems to be fluffier and the resulting crust flakier. If using room temperature butter, wrap the finished dough in plastic wrap and allow to chill in the refrigerator until firm enough to roll out without sticking to the rolling pin or ripping when lifted, about 30 minutes or more.
Prepare double pie crust:
Butter a 10” wide x 1 1/2” deep pie dish and dust lightly with flour.
Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl or on a work surface and toss the cubes of butter into the flour-sugar until coated with the flour. Using only your thumbs and fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the consistency of damp sand and there are no more large chunks of butter. With a fork, vigorously stir in the lightly beaten egg until all the dry ingredients are moistened and a dough starts to pull together. Gather the dough together into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Using the heel of one hand, smear the dough little by little away from you in quick, hard strokes in order to make sure that all of the butter is blended in well. Flour the surface of the dough or your hand to keep the dough sticking to your skin.
Scrape the dough together, re-flour the work surface and work very briefly and quickly until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. If the dough is too soft or sticky, refrigerate it for 15 to 30 minutes until it can be easily rolled out without sticking to your rolling pin.
Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the smaller piece of dough and line the buttered and lightly floured 10” wide, 1 1/2” deep pie dish, carefully lifting and placing the dough into place (just pressing the dough in will cause the dough to rip). Press closed any gaps or rips and prick the dough all over with a fork. Return the other half of the dough to the refrigerator to keep chilled and firm while preparing the apples.
Prepare the fruit and pie:
Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
Peel and core the apples and slice thinly. Place the apple slices in a very large mixing bowl. Stir the cinnamon and the nutmeg into the sugar until blended; add to the apples and toss until the sugar-spice mixture is evenly coating the apple slices.
Fill the bottom crust (the pastry-lined pie plate) with the apple slices so that they are evenly distributed, moving them around to fill in any gaps. Dot the apples with the butter.
Roll out the top crust so it is a bit larger than the pie plate and carefully place it on top of the apples, hanging over the edges. Cut off excess of top and bottom crusts leaving about an inch of dough. Tuck and press the top and bottom dough together to seal and then crimp. Trim excess dough.
Brush the top of the crust all over with the milk. Slice 5 or 6 vents in the crust. Sprinkle the top crust with cinnamon-sugar or granulated Brown sugar.
Place the pie in the preheated hot oven for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F (180°C) and continue baking for 30 minutes or until both top and bottom crusts are browned.
The apple filling and juices are very hot when first out of the oven, so let the apple pie cool somewhat on a cooling rack before slicing and serving. If you want to replace your traditional galette des rois with an apple pie, feel free to slip in a lucky charm…