Nowadays considered a tradition that permeates all of french society, every man woman and child appears to partake in the celebration of la galette des rois. It is impossible to walk in a town centre without seeing every patisserie counter smothered with these golden, cross-hatched pastry discs wearing paper crowns, awaiting the game. In supermarkets there are shelves crammed full of industrially produced galettes or instore bakery versions, in free standing palet-like stacks, boxed, with folded crowns included. It is these in the last category that always convince me of the great significance of this french tradition, as I see them piled up for sale in apocalyptically stupefying quantities.
Whether from a patisserie, mass produced in a factory or baked at home, sharing a galette des rois is a festive and terrifically fun time for all. Friends, family, church groups, work colleagues or associations, can all share a convivial moment eating cake and drinking cider together. Whilst specifically baked for the day of epiphany, this pastry will be found for several weeks of January, to accomodate the calendars of social groups catching up for this cheery traditional start to the year. It is quite common to share several galettes, spanning the breadth of one’s activities, from school to leisure to family. By the end of January it is quite normal to feel the need for the coming eleven months as a reprive from la galette des rois!
Each year I have ‘assembled’ my own galette des rois for family and friends. I hesitate and prefer to say ‘assembled’ because in this, France’s most puff pastryish time of year, I have always purchased my pastry and just made the filling myself. It sort of counts as cheater’s baking, I suppose, even if the results taste terrific. Despite local bakeries positively heaving under freshly baked galettes, I have always wanted to bake my own. Truth be told, I have always felt a glimmer of shame, peeling my ready made sheet from the paper and assembling rather than fully making the galette from scratch. It is true that for the most part, I’ve not shied away from making dough. I mean, I have joyful memories of baking brioche with fresh yeast by myself at the tender age of eight. For puff pastry I have always had
terror reservations. In past attempts, after what I recognise now as sloppy techniques and haste on my part, I was left with butter oozing and squeezing in all the wrong places and I’ll admit to an ugly crying scene in frustration. Butter was everywhere but within the pastry. So I put the recipe concept into the too hard basket and along with it, any following a similar method. Oh for decades I pretended that I was perfectly content to be able to make lovely shortcrust as though it was the only type of pastry and I kept telling myself that everyone purchased their puff! But deep down I knew I was lying to myself, telling a half truth and that this puff pastry denial was eating away and leaving me feeling quite the faker-baker.
Over more than a decade here in France, my own distinct pre-Epiphany pattern has emerged. A familiar queasy dread sliding down the back of my neck as I survey empty puff pastry shelves, having left my run too late. An Epiphany had never actually passed me by where hadn’t finally track down my two mandatory packets of pâte feuilletée. Well 2018 put paid to that. My resolution stepped forward. It jabbed me forcefully as I stood in front of a first and then a second bare supermarket shelf. Exhaling, my face was scrunched to a wince as I walked to another store to confront an empty third rack. Still hopeful, I arrived at the fourth naked shelf and I was then that I had an epiphany of my own – I going to take home my weight in butter and make the pastry myself.
I contemplated the significance of the act whilst I dragged my butter and flour laden caddy up the steep and narrow passageway of the old town toward home. I’ve always been interested in baking and have regretted that a lack of confidence has stopped me making a career of it, even now as a 40 something year old. I have a photograph of my baker grandfather in my kitchen and so often look at it wishing I had truly followed his example. Perhaps you may be surprised that someone really could have such strong feelings about puff pastry, but I found myself consolidating my will to no longer just stare ineffectually, all gooey eyed at the viennoiseries section of my cookbooks like some love struck teen. If I had come travelling so long ago to France propelled by a sheer adoration for the country’s patisserie boulangeries, how could I justify any longer not having the courage to try and make my own croissants?
That same afternoon, full of a brilliant enthusiasm, I set about searching through many of my cookbooks and online to see which recipe I was going to try. I finally settled on using an inverted puff pastry recipe, using a butter and flour layer of beurre manié to assist the rolling together of the dough and butter layers. On Saturday the 6th, I positively threw myself into the task and set about creating both beurre manié and dough. I left both to firm and rest in the refrigerator whilst my husband and I took the dogs for a walk and we admired many bakery displays and received many admiring glances at our recently increased to four (!) pack of spaniels. During our stroll I received an invitation to visit a friend’s house for coffee that afternoon. My intention had been to complete 6 ‘turns’ (sets of distinct folds) upon the dough, as described in my chosen recipe. I realised that coffee with my friend may run spread the breadth of the afternoon and therefore my schedule and pastry making enthusiasm may go by the window. Rather than rush the pastry and galette making experience, I opted to change tack for the double book fold method and to make and share the galette on Sunday instead, which coincided with a family birthday. The children and I then made the crown together and improvised over our lack of art supply with gold cake dusting powder and sequins.
Calm and well prepared, this time I adored the process of making my puff pastry – whilst labour intensive, the feel of the dough throughout the different turns made for a fascinating and extremely satisfying evolution. Finally I arrived at the point of rolling out and cutting the discs of pastry. After filling, placing the fève inside then sealing, scoring, egg washing and baking, I thought I would collapse with nervous excitement. My first galette to go to bake was almond, my second hazelnut. Clicking open the oven door and staring at the almond galette in the oven ready to exit, I could not have been more delighted. Both of us as a couple whooped with delight. I was dumbfounded that I had not only managed to succeed at the task, but that it looked so darn pretty!
I used some pastry scraps and leftover hazelnut frangipani to make a mini galette and for her size I didn’t bother to hide a feve inside. Opening the oven to check on her much larger hazelnut big sister, horror turned to astonishment and laughter – I obviously had not sealed the galette as firmly as the first, as the filling, no longer contained, was sliding effortlessly from inside and taking the top layer of pastry with it! The tray was without an edge, so the most marvelous aspect of this complete fail was the fact that the top had slithered to half lay, half hang from the oven rack, in an edible remake of Dali’s Persistence of Memory melting clocks! My only regret was not to have been able to kick my brain into gear to photograph the peculiar sight, it was my level headed husband who proposed sliding the disaster onto a rimmed tray to salvage all that delicious filling and pastry! It is for this reason that I have presented to you my cutie mini hazelnut galette. Considering she has no feve within, I decided to show display some of my other feve on her shiny surface. More about these little figurines to follow in an upcoming post.
Our family spent a lovely afternoon together, toasting the new year, a birthday and my pastry success with cider for three, Champommy for our daughter and lovely thick wedges of galette for each. Of course, we couldn’t forget our 4 legged friends; fearful that should they win the feve, they would swallow it galette and all, we nominated a slice for each and had to check before sharing. The winter sun shone into our living room and Louis XIV finally emerged from a slice of galette, we had found our royal for the day.
Please note If you decide to play the game by placing a bean or charm inside the galette, please warn everyone to be extremely careful and for younger children or the elderly, best to remove the charm all together. I did hear that real beans are no longer allowed to be used for choking risks, but there is obviously a risk for charms also. Not forgetting teeth also, I can imagine the spectacular clatter of chomping down on a fève between molars…. Perhaps because people are so conscious of the presence of the féve inside the galette this may minimise accidents, but obviously the risk exists. Please make your own careful choice as to whether you wish to use a hidden charm or to try this delicious pastry feve free.
I just can’t get enough of that puff….