Posts Tagged ‘france’

Galette des rois (King’s cake)

8 January 2014


‘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 (or vice versa).


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.

The filling can be enough for 2 galettes about 30 cm (12″) in diameter

Puff pastry, 2 sheets per galette (best, pure-butter, store-bought kind, or self-made)

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

3 eggs

Zest from 1 small lemon

1/2 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 (if making from scratch), 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).

Exciting times. Part II.

16 October 2013

Roscoff, Brittany

The last time I moved across continents I had a three-week-new husband, a few metal trunks, and a couple of suitcases. This time was different. Moving with a full house and three children takes some of the fun out of moving. It dampens the feeling of freedom and endless possibility somewhat. There are schools to contend with, and lots and lots more stuff.

We gave ourselves two weeks to pack up in New York and two weeks in London to get everything sorted and those were four remarkably stressful weeks, but, I have to say, now that all is pretty much settled, in retrospect, it wasn’t all that bad.

Anyway, moving wasn’t going to encroach on our summer vacation, on the contrary, what a perfect opportunity to embark on a giant road trip through Europe. Because, why not?


First the Eurostar to Brussels to visit family and friends and pick up the children


Then a long drive to Munich to visit family and idle away the hours, from Biergarten, to park, to lake, to Biergarten


And off to Italy and beautiful Umbria!

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We climbed up a mountain — Phew.
We lolled by the Adriatic.


All the while spending time with friends. Old friends we hadn’t seen in much too long. New friends.


People should get married much more often.

Then a violent drive to Paris, and Thomas eurostarred to London while the children and I continued on to Brittany for the last three weeks of this transitional summer.

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Before moving to London.

In Brittany | Mussels with shallots and white wine

25 July 2011

I am in France spending a large part of the summer with my family at my sister’s beautiful, old, and very run down farmhouse in northern Brittany.

While New York was smouldering under the heat last week everyone in France complained about the cold, and here, too, temperatures have hovered around 18°C (65°F) and it rains more often than not. But no one complains. Northern Brittany is known for blustery weather and beautiful coastlines, and we’ve been enjoying both.

Food-wise, beyond crêpes and savory buckwheat galettes – Brittany’s most famous culinary exports – the region has fresh fish and seafood in abundance, is famous for artichokes and pink onions, breeds pigs, and bakes far and kouign amann for dessert. This of course being just a cursory list. We’ve been enjoying all of that, too.

But first, mussels.

I forget how easy it is to cook mussels so I don’t make them often in New York, but here mussels are not only on every market but also on the beach, and on all of our minds. This is one of the most basic traditional French preparation: moules marinières, or sailor’s mussels, with shallots and wine wine. Add cream (as I do here) and they become ‘moules à la crème.’

Serves 4 as a main dish (count 1 lb of mussels per person)

4 lbs (2 kg) mussels*

4-5 shallots

2 cloves garlic

3 Tbsps butter

Olive oil

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

2/3 cup (200 ml) crisp white wine such as muscadet

2-3 Tbsps crème fraîche

Freshly ground black pepper

Large bunch flat-leaved parsley


Thoroughly scrub the mussels clean, wash them under clear water, and drain.

Peel and thinly dice the shallots. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Wash and finely chop the parsley and reserve for later.

In a large cooking pot, melt the butter with a dash of olive oil. Add the shallots, and cook until they become translucent. Add the garlic, stir, and cook for another minute. Throw in the sprigs of parsley and stir again to combine the flavors.

The shallots shouldn’t turn brown. As soon as they start to turn golden, pour in the white wine and bring to a boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes.

Add the mussels, cover with a lid, and turn up the heat. As soon as the lid starts to let off some steam, take the pot off the fire and, firmly, with both hands, shake it with a few gentle jerks in order to turn the mussels inside the pot.

Place the mussels back onto the stove for a few minutes more. Most of the mussels should be open. If not, jerk the mussels again and return to the stove.

Once the mussels are open, transfer them carefully with a straining ladle to a warm pot or bowl for serving.

Place the coking pot with the shallot/wine sauce back onto the fire. Stir in the crème fraîche (I prefer the sauce to become milky and not creamy, but add according to taste), and some pepper.

Pour the very hot sauce over the mussels, sprinkle with lots of parsley, and serve immediately.

*At home, poke breathing holes into the bag of mussels and store in the refrigerator.


Related posts

In Brittany | Home baked potato fries

At the market in Brittany | Artichokes

In Haute Savoie | Reblochon and tartiflette

14 April 2011

I’ve been going skiing in Haute Savoie since I was twelve. Initially with my family, later with friends, and this year – somewhat greedily – first with friends, and then with family.

Spending a (fairly boisterous) week together has been a lucky and indulgent way for us to keep in touch with friends who don’t live around the corner anymore. This year the children very nearly outnumbered the adults and there was no late night dancing, but it was, as always, a culinary treat.

Before going I was pretty sure I would want to write about raclette, which in these mountains is not prepared 1980s-suburban-dinner-party-style on little individual pans, but, rather, an entire half raclette cheese is mounted onto a simple heating device, melted, and scraped directly onto boiled potatoes, to be eaten, delectably, with cornichons, cured meat, and frisée or escarole salad.

But I am not going to write about raclette. We did eat raclette – no skiing holiday would be quite right without it – but by the time friends left and I had time to take a few pictures, spring had attacked with such full force that the idea of raclette receded too far back into winter to be summoned up again. Until next year.

Not so with reblochon, and tartiflette.

Reblochon is a typical round, creamy, raw-milk cheese from Haute Savoie protected by an AOC.* As the story goes, reblochon dates back to the 13th century. At the time, peasant dues to land owners were calculated according to the amount of milk produced in one day, so ingeniously, on inspection days, cows were not fully milked. A fraudulent second milking produced less abundant but creamier milk ideally suited to the production of cheese. The name reblochon apparently comes from the local dialect “re-blocher,” which means “to pinch a cow’s teats a second time.”**

Reblochon is delicious as is, a cheese plate in itself, but it is also decadent as tartiflette, another variation on cheese and potatoes, Savoie-style. Thomas and Valerie H are the masters of tartiflette. Every year they prepare the dish – or rather dishes, to accommodate 13 adults and 13 children, dietary needs, and picky eaters. I defer the recipe to them.

*Appellation d’origine contrôlée : A French certification that strictly regulates the geographic origin and production methods of certain foods
**Story loosely translated from



Recipe edited and approved by Thomas and Valerie H






Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Peel the potatoes, add them to the boiling water (whole or cut in half depending on the size – ideally all the pieces should have approximately the same size so that they cook evenly). Cook until just soft but still al dente. Drain and let the potatoes rest until cool enough to handle.

Cut the bacon into small strips about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long and 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) wide. Fry the bacon over medium to high heat in a large skillet. Remove, set aside, and drain excess fat, leaving some in the skillet.

Finely cut the shallots, add to the skillet, and cook in bacon fat until golden. Line an ovenproof dish (large enough to hold two reblochon halves) with a layer of half of the shallots.

Cut the potatoes into slices about 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick. Place them on top of the bed of shallots. Add the other half of the shallots, the bacon, and spread evenly over the potatoes.

Slice the reblochon(s) in two horizontally and place it, rind side up, on the potatoes. Cut the sliced reblochon in further pieces to fill in the corners and sides of the skillet, so that the potatoes are completely covered with reblochen. No additional seasoning is required, the bacon, shallots, and the reblochon provide for everything.

Slip into the oven and bake until the cheese is golden and bubbling on the sides. Take out and let rest for about 10 minutes until the melted cheese cools down and begins to solidify slightly (If served too early, the tartiflette will be too liquid).

Serve with a large winter salad such as frisée or escarole. And white wine from Haute Savoie.


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