Well, here we are in what everyone pretty much agrees is the dullest part of the year.
While the weather’s trying its hardest – today’s a crisp, clear and frosty 4K high-definition barnstormer – it’s often a struggle to get moving into the New Year.
The post-celebration blues can hit hard, with overflowing bins full of wrapping paper, unwanted or broken gifts, and forlorn-looking abandoned Christmas trees lurking on our region’s pavements.
Our homes, now bereft of their twinkly lights and colourful cards, seem a little muted. And personally speaking, the impetus to cook things is barely there.
The other night, as T and I were trying to decide what to have for supper, I said “I just want a menu.”
At that point, I couldn’t be bothered even thinking about what to cook, let alone setting to with a knife and an onion. But we managed. And very slowly, every year, the feeling comes back.
Normality resumes in its own good time. My timing’s been right off, too, as it is at this time every year. I struggle to get back into my weekly routines, and forget what day it is with alarming frequency.
And, as with the last two years, I have forgotten to mark the 6th of January with the making of a traditional European dish, the famous Galette Des Rois.
Well, not this year. I’m making one whether I’ve missed the date or not. Seeing hundreds of them scroll up on my Twitter feed just reminded me that I simply had to make one, and bad timing be damned. The King’s Cake (or Bolo Rei in Portugal, Roscón in Spain and South America, Vasilopita in Greece), is a special cake made to celebrate the Epiphany, the date that marks the end of the festive season.
It is the date when, in biblical history, the three kings visited the infant Jesus and witnessed the miracle of the virgin birth.
All across Europe, and in many states of the southern USA, cakes of various types are made in honour of this date, and are baked and eaten all the way up until Shrove Tuesday (which technically gets me off the hook, time-wise, here). Across Europe, the cakes are almost always variants of the same recipe – a sweet puff pastry tart (very similar to a pithivier) filled with almonds, often with elaborate and decorative scoring and a deep-golden bake.
The filling, a rich frangipane, is sometimes spiked with a little rum or brandy, and most bakers will hide within the cake a little figurine representing the infant in his manger (most often a dried bean is used) to be found by a lucky member of the family upon whom good luck and gifts are bestowed.
It’s the same, I guess, as our sixpence in the Christmas Pud. I didn’t bother with this for my Galette, but you’re welcome to add a small trinket (oven-proof) but do remember to tell everyone, before Grandma sues you for ruining her dentures.
I added a little extra touch of my own here, by adding some deeply-toasted flaked almonds to the top of the frangipane, ensuring a nice crunch along with all that rich, almond-y smoothness.
It’s a doddle to make, impressive to look at, and the perfect accompaniment to that cup of strong coffee you sip whilst planning your 2018.
For the pastry:
2 x 375g packets of ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
1 free-range egg yolk, beaten
For the frangipane:
100g unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
100g ground almonds
100g unrefined golden caster sugar
1 fresh free-range egg and 2 fresh free-range egg yolks, beaten
20g plain flour, well-sieved
50g flaked almonds
A pinch of Maldon salt
A splash of Rum or Cognac
For the glaze:
1 free-range egg yolk, beaten
1½ tsp single cream
First, toast the flaked almonds under a hot grill or in a medium oven until deeply-coloured and fragrant. Set aside.
Now, make up the pastry discs; cut out a 25cm disc from one of the pastry sheets and another disc 22cm in diameter from the other. Carefully fold the remaining pastry into a neat stack and wrap for future use. Refrigerate the discs, loosely wrapped, for an hour to firm up completely.
As they chill, make up the frangipane; in the bowl of a mixer, or with a hand-whisk, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the beaten egg, a small amount at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Slowly mix in the ground almonds, and sift in the plain flour, and finally add the pinch of salt and a splash of booze. Set aside.
To assemble the tart, place the smaller pastry disc on a lightly-floured baking sheet. Pipe or spoon on the frangipane, leaving a good 2-3cm clear margin around the edge. Sprinkle the frangipane with the toasted almonds.
Brush the edge well with beaten egg, and carefully drape the larger pastry disc over, pressing gently all over to expel any air pockets, and sealing the tart completely. Refrigerate or, ideally, pop in a freezer, loosely-covered, for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4 and place a suitable baking tray on a middle shelf to get good and hot.
Trim the edges of the tart to form a perfect circle and lightly tap the base with the blade of a sharp knife all around, to help the leaves of pastry rise fully. Mix the cream and egg yolk for the glaze until smooth, and brush the whole galette evenly. Using a blunt knife (the back of a table knife will be fine) score a spiral of curves from the centre to the edge (go more abstract if you fancy – or simply criss-cross if you’re nervous) making sure not to pierce the pastry at all.
Carefully slide the galette onto the preheated baking tray and bake for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and beautifully golden brown.
Carefully lift the galette onto a wire rack and leave to cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Alternatively, let it cool completely, but do not refrigerate.