‘For whom is this piece?’
The cake has been cut, one piece already slid under the cake knife. The youngest child is giggling under the table, the family above huddled auspiciously around the redolent cake. The crown is ready. The ritual has begun.
Monday 6 January was Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or King’s Day, which in the Christian tradition celebrates the arrival of the three wise men (‘kings’) Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, bearing gifts for Jesus. In a typical amalgamation of customs, it is also — or foremost? — the day of the king’s cake, a traditional confection in which is hidden a coin, bean, or small figurine. Meaning is attached to finding the token. Depending on the tradition, it may bring luck, assign you to be the organizer of the next party, or make you king for the day, a custom that apparently derives from the Roman Saturnalia, a winter festival rife with role playing during which the king of festivities was chosen by lot, with a bean.
In France we play like this: Everyone gathers around the galette as the youngest person hides under the table. The host cuts the cake and distributes the pieces according to the injunction of the hidden guest, who, in no specific order, calls out the name of each person present. This ensures that the piece with the token is given out at random. The cake is eaten circumspectly, with furtive poking and prodding, until someone finds the fève, and everyone can go about their business of just enjoying the pastry. The king is crowned and chooses his queen.
For many years I didn’t make galette, I loved trying out bakeries to compare and contrast and find the best one. (Have I mentioned that we French eat galettes throughout January?) Then one day, I baked one. Or at least partially. I bought good puff pastry and made the almond cream. It was so ridiculously easy I was practically embarrassed. It also made for a better galette than most store-bought kinds. So I started making galettes. Kind of. Then, unexpectedly, this year, after decades of shying away from puff pastry (is it really worth the effort?), on a whim, I dove into the deep end — and I am not looking back.
Dan Lepard’s all-butter English puff pastry is, in his words, really not that hard to make. I agree!
Making galette can be anywhere from super easy to quite time-consuming, depending on how much is self-made. The ultra-quick version uses good store-bought puff pastry and ready ground almonds. The most hands on take makes puff pastry from scratch and grinds almonds on the spot. Depending on the mood.
Puff pastry, 2 sheets per galette (best, pure-butter, store-bought kind, or self-made)
Filling for 2 galettes about 30 cm (12″) in diameter
180 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
180 g (1 cup) sugar
200 g (2 cups) almonds (or ready-ground almond flour)
1/2 tsp salt
Zest from 1 small lemon
1 tsp almond extract
1 Tbsp Armagnac (or, more traditionally, rum)
1 egg yolk and 2 Tbsps milk for the eggwash
1 fève (dried fava bean or small porcelain figurine)
Take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.
To prepare the almond flour, first blanch the almonds: Bring a couple of cups of water to boil, pour over the almonds to just cover, let steep for 1 minute, then strain the water and immediately remove the skins from the almonds. Once all the skins are removed, place the almonds in a food processor and pulse chop until very fine. Alternatively, use store-bought ground almonds (= almond flour).
In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy.
In another bowl, mix the sugar, almonds, and salt. Add this to the butter and mix well before beating in the eggs, one at a time, combining each thoroughly into the batter. Stir in the lemon zest, almond extract, and Armagnac. Refrigerate. [The almond cream can be refrigerated for a few hours until ready to use.]
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into two circles of the same size (about 30 cm or 12″). Use a tarte dish or other to trim the circles into neat edges.
Place one circle of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread a good layer of almond cream on the dough, leaving an edge of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) along the circumference. Place the fève randomly onto the cream.
Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk lightly with a fork. Brush the egg wash along the circumference of the dough. Carefully place the second round of dough on top and press along the edge thoroughly to seal.
Place the assembled galette in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or overnight).
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F (180°C) and remove the galette from the refrigerator. With a sharp knife, etch a design onto the galette, then brush generously with the egg wash.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown.
Serve warm (lightly reheated if necessary).