|A galette des rois, or king cake, is relatively easy to put together.|
When I was 5 years old my family moved to an apartment complex in St. Louis, Mo., where my mother got to know a French Canadian woman and I got to play with her daughter, Nathalie.
One evening we went to visit and played what to me was the coolest game. My parents and I and Nathalie and her parents sat around a table for dessert. Nathalie's mother gave us a piece of a king cake, and told us whoever found a little figure inside, I think it was a baby, would wear a crown and be king or queen for the party.
I don't remember how I ate it, whether I used a fork or my hands. I don't even remember what the cake was like. All I remember is the anticipation, the tension as I took careful bites hoping I'd find the prize, without swallowing it. I wanted to wear that crown. I don't recall how much I ate, but I found the trinket.
Of course, looking back, I realize that Nathalie's mother must have rigged it so that I'd win.
A year later, we moved again, nearly haflway across the country, losing touch, and for a while I forgot about Nathalie and the cake.
Recently, I kept coming across references to French king cakes, called galette des rois and gateau des rois, traditionally eaten to celebrate the Epiphany, which marks the visit of the three wise men or kings to the infant Jesus. Who am I to ignore what fate keeps putting in front of me? Since the Epiphany falls on Jan. 6, I made a galette des rois this past weekend, partly because the galette version uses puff pastry, or pate feuillete, to enclose a central layer of almond cream, which I love. (The gateau des rois is more of a brioche cake.)
You can use frozen ready-to-use puff pastry dough, but none of the supermarkets in my area carried any made with butter. As I've mentioned before when developing a pie crust for my quiche, I don't care for the feeling that vegetable shortening leaves in my mouth, so I had to make it from scratch.
The pastry dough wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be. It just took time because it needed to chill several times for an hour in the refrigerator. No biggie. I made the dough and filling on Saturday, then assembled and baked the tart Sunday. I didn't have a feve (bean) or figurine to bake into the galette, so I used a whole almond. It took longer to bake than the expected 40 to 50 minutes, and I think it could still have used a bit more time in the oven. I also had some dough and almond cream left over, so I made mini tarts too.
The tart disappeared in less time than I needed to make it. Good thing custom lets me eat these all month if I want. I can't resist the buttery aroma or the slightly sweet, moist almond filling contrasting with the flaky layers.
Galette des Rois Recipe
Serves 8 to 12
1 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
1 stick butter, softened at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional
1 package premade puff pastry dough (thawed if frozen)
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
1. Combine almonds, sugar, salt and flour.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir butter until softened, then mix the dry ingredients into the butter. Mix in the eggs and extracts.
4. Just before assembling galette, beat one egg and keep next to work area. Divide puff pastry dough in two. Roll out one portion of the dough on nonstick parchment paper to between 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch thick and cut out a large circle, using a 9-inch or 10-inch cake pan as template. Cover with plastic and refrigerate the circle. Repeat, making a circle that is 1/2 inch in diameter larger than the first circle. Cover with plastic wrap, and remove the first circle of dough when you put the second circle in the refrigerator.
5. Place the first circle of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush outer inch of the circle with the egg wash. Spread the almond cream over the first circle of dough except the outer edge that has been brushed with egg. Press a whole almond into a random spot of the almond cream.
6. Get the second circle of dough, put it over the first, and press the edges to seal them shut. Use a knife to score curved lines radiating from the center to the outer edge, without actually cutting through the dough.
Then cut a steam hole in the middle of the tart and brush the surface with egg wash.
7. Bake at 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes, then lower the oven to 400 degrees F. and bake the galette until puffed and golden brown, about 40 to 50 minutes, but check on the galette at 20 and 30 minutes. If it is getting dark too quickly, cover with a sheet of foil to shield the top.
8. When done baking, put the baking sheet on a cooling rack and allow to cool 15 or 20 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm. I also like to eat it for breakfast the next day.