Epiphany : a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ
: a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way – Merriam Webster Dictionary
Every French kid growing up looks forward to January 6th as the day we get to eat a galette des rois, or King’s Cake, and perhaps be king or Queen for a day. The cake celebrates the feast of Epiphany when the three kings brought gifts for sweet baby Jesus.
Hidden among the warm rum scented layers of frangipane (almond cream) and puff pastry is a small ceramic figurine guaranteed to break your tooth if you aren’t careful. The figurine, also known as a feve, used to actually be a small bean but changed to figurines sometime in the late 1800s. Whoever finds the feve in the galette gets to wear a crown and be king or queen for the day!
I have a confession, I never made one myself until this year. I wanted my son Beaumont to enjoy this part of growing up and feared no bakery in Portland would have one, or, if they did, somehow they would work some pork belly into it. I just wanted a classic version like the ones I grew up eating.
Making one is actually quite simple with only a few steps involved. It is a perfect pastry to make together with your small child.
Step One: Find some puff pastry, roll out, and cut.
Pepperidge Farms puff pastry sheets are the most widely available and can be found in most any grocery store freezer section. There are better, all butter brands available so let your wallet make the final decision. Thaw a box completely. The downside to Pepperidge Farms brand is each sheet is folded in three and has very distinct creases when you unfold the sheet. To fix, you will need to throw a little flour on a smooth work surface and roll the dough out. If your dough is too soft put back into the refrigerator for 30 minutes before continuing.
Use the bottom of a 10-inch springform cake pan (or any other ten-inch circle shaped thing you have) and cut a circle out from the pastry. Be sure to use a sharp knife to prevent pinching the dough too much. Pinching causes the dough to rise unevenly. Repeat with the second sheet in the box. Refrigerate the sheets while you make the frangipane.
Step Two: Make the Frangipane
For this recipe, I use Bob’s Red Mill almond meal/flour exclusively. They can be found on most grocery store shelves and are consistently high quality and a great value. In a bowl mix, 1 ounce of rum, 4 ounces of room temperature butter, 1 cup of almond meal, 1/2 cup of sugar, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon of almond extract, 2 eggs and the zest of one orange. Mix until you have a semi-homogeneous mixture.
Step Three: Assembling the Galette
Lay one circle of puff pastry on a sheet pan (cookie sheet, baking pan) lined with parchment paper. Scoop your frangipane out and plunk into the center of the circle. Spread it out leaving a one-inch border free and clear of frangipane. If you are putting in a feve do so now. Make a little secret mark on the galette to be sure your little one gets the feve.
Step Four: The Top Layer
Mix one egg with one tablespoon of cold water. Using a pastry brush or your fingers, lightly wet the border you created in step three, and place the second circle of puff pastry over. The second sheet technically needs to be slightly larger because it has to cover the mountain of almond cream and still stretch to cover the entire bottom layer of puff pastry. Usually, you can either pull the dough delicately with your fingers or roll it out a hair more. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t exactly align.
Step Five: Crimp the edges
Sometimes I feel like David Lebovitz stole my life from me. David is the Chez Panisse alum who lives in Paris and spends his life eating and drinking in France then writing about it. I absolutely love his books and blogs and at times have been known to steal a few ideas. This technique of crimping is shamelessly “borrowed” from him. Put two fingers on the one-inch border facing out from the center of the galette and draw the backside of a butter knife towards you. This simple technique will create a visually stunning border that will elevate your pastry making to an art form. Watch this short video with this technique in action.
Step Six: Decorating the dough
Stick the galette into your freezer and forget about it for one hour. The idea is to solidify the dough a bit without freezing the pastry solid, so one-hour maximum. Using a razor-sharp paring knife, cut a pattern into the top of the galette. Classically, it is semi circles spiraling out of the center. This is solely for show and does not affect the final flavor so if you want you can skip it. Be sure to only score the top and not to actually cut all the way through the dough.
Brush the top with egg wash and bake in a preheated 400-degree oven till golden brown, about thirty minutes. Let cool slightly and eat!
You do not need to wait till January 6th to eat; not surprisingly the French also call this dessert Pithivier and enjoy the rest of the year. Post pictures with the hashtag #PistouAndPastis so we can see your creations.