The Last Gasp of Christmas

Marty at Work (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)

Marty at Work (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)

The New Year has arrived, and like everyone else I know I’m making an effort to eat a little more lightly.
Once the cream in the refrigerator is used up it will not be replaced. Salads are making a big comeback, dessert is limited to plain fruit, and my comfort food of choice is now something healthy like pea soup rather than a heavier dish like a pot pie.
Today, however, all dieting is suspended—for today is Epiphany.
Twelfth Night, the time at which the wise men (or kings or whoever the heck they were) finally found the Baby Jesus, marks the end of the Christmas season.
Americans generally celebrate this occasion rather sadly by taking down their Christmas trees and putting away the decorations that have made the season extra festive.
In contrast, the French celebrate the arrival of the wise men with A TON OF BUTTER. (The French know how to welcome people as American G.I.s learned in 1944.)
The traditional French Epiphany food is the Galette des Rois (kings’ cake), which is basically puff pastry baked around rich almond cream.
Like a New Orleans King Cake the Galette contains a tiny prize (a crown or a bean or an almond) baked within its folds. Whoever finds the prize in his or her slice of cake is crowned king or queen for the day.
Marty Yaffee, a talented local chef who recently opened the Little Cooking School in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, conducted a Galette des Rois workshop on Sunday at a nearby church.
Marty kindly supplied me with the recipe for his creation, which appears below.
I’m going to try to make a version of it tomorrow so you’ll see photos of MY galette on Friday. (I’m going to try the “blitz” version of the puff pastry to keep things simple.)
I have a feeling—no, a certainty–that my galette won’t be nearly as lovely as Marty’s. But it will taste fantastic, I know. Did I mention that the recipe calls for a ton of butter?
Happy Twelfth Night, everyone. I wish you moments of epiphany all year long…..
Chef Marty’s Galette des Rois (Three Kings’ Cake)
Marty makes standard amounts of Puff Pastry and Frangipane filling so the recipes for those actually make more than you will need for one galette. Your choices are to make more than one galette (you may actually make a rectangular cake called a jalousie if you are so inclined), to freeze some pastry and frangipane for a future occasion, or to cut down on his recipe.
for the Puff Pastry (enough for at least 2 to 3 galettes):
3-1/2 cups flour plus 1 cup for dusting during dough “turning”

7/8 cup cold water

1-3/4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vinegar (either rice vinegar or white wine vinegar)

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, slightly softened

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center.
Add the water, salt, vinegar, and melted butter into the well in the center.
Turning the bowl slowly pull small amounts of the flour into the liquids and then mix all ingredients into a dough. Knead with the heel of your hand until ingredients become almost homogenous, but don’t overknead. (Knead as little as possible to make an almost smooth dough).
Form the dough into a ball and cut an “X” deep into the dough.
Using a rolling pin, roll the “arms of the “X” until you have a starfish shape.
Cover and refrigerate for at least a half hour.
Using two pieces of plastic wrap, line the sticks of slightly softened butter up on the plastic wrap, cover with the other plastic wrap, and beat the butter gently with your rolling pin to shape the butter into a square.
Before making your dough “turns” make sure the butter is about the same consistency as the dough (if the butter is too warm it will not roll out with the dough; nor will it roll well if it is right out of the refrigerator).
Put the butter square in the center of the “starfish,” fold the arms of the starfish over the butter to completely enclose it. Now roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is a rectangle about 15 by 26 inches.
Imagine the rectangle divided into thirds.
Fold one end of the dough over, then fold that to meet the other end to achieve 3 layers. This is the first “turn.”
Use a brush to remove extra flour that is on the dough as you are folding.
Turn the dough 90 degrees and roll it out again to the same 15-by-26-inch size.
Fold in the ends again. That was the second turn.
Now wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 30 minutes to relax the gluten in the dough (the substance that makes dough get stiffer as you work with it).
Keeping your work surface slightly floured and removing excess flour as you fold, roll out the dough to the same size again and do the folds.
Turn and repeat.
Now refrigerate the dough again if you wish. You may do 2 more dough “turns” to make it even flakier, though 4 turns is the minimum recommended.
You may refrigerate the dough if you are going to use it in an hour or 2, or freeze all of it or pieces of it for future use. It will keep well in the freezer for up to a month. 
Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using frozen dough.
for “Blitz” Puff Pastry (a little quicker than the standard version), which again makes enough for at least 2 to 3 galettes:
Note from Marty: If you feel like you don’t have quite enough time for making the classic puff pastry and you don’t mind your dough puffing up about 30 percent less than regular puff dough, you may save some time and effort with the “Blitz” puff pastry.
3-1/2 cups flour

4-1/2 sticks slightly softened unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup cold water (maybe a drop or two more)

Put the flour in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center.
Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and put them in the well.
Sprinkle the salt over the butter.
Work the butter cubes into the flour until the mixture starts to look grainy but there are still some small flakes of butter visible. Add the water, a little at a time, until the dough just comes together.
Roll out this dough into a rectangle about 8 by 16 inches.
Fold in thirds.
Roll out to the same size again and fold in thirds.
Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Make 2 more turns and the dough will be ready to use. Again, you may freeze a least half before making this recipe.
for the Frangipane Filling (make enough for at least 2 to 3 galettes):
1 pound 2 ounces almond paste (either store-bought or combine 3-1/3 cups whole almonds with 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar and process in a food processor until the almonds and sugar make a thick paste)

2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup flour

5 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional, but it may be needed if you have made your own almond paste)

Beat the almond paste in a mixer with a paddle attachment.
While beating, add the butter a little at a time and beat until smooth.
Beat the flour in.
Add the eggs one at a time while beating; then add the extract if you are using it.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat once more to make sure the mixture is homogenous.
Get ready to make your cake!
for the Three Kings’ Cake
Puff Pastry dough as needed

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Frangipane filling as needed

1 almond (for the traditional prize)

confectioner’s sugar and a sieve for sprinkling it

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Roll out a piece of puff pastry until it is 1/16 inch thin.
Make two circles, one bigger than the other. (The smaller should be 8 to 9 inches in diameter.)
On the smaller circle, put a mound of frangipane and smooth it until it is about 1/2 inch thick, leaving an outer circle of dough without frangipane about 3/4 inch wide. Place your almond somewhere in the middle.
Dab egg wash on the outer circle.
Place the larger circle of dough over the pastry lining up the edges with the smaller one.
Egg wash the top of the dough.
Use a fork to press the 2 layers of dough together.
Cut pieces of dough away from the edge for “sunrays.”
Gently score the top surface of the pastry with “sunray” design.

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes then turn the oven down to 375 and bake until the frangipane filling gives resistance to the touch (springs back).
Remove the pastry from the oven and sprinkle with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
Turn the oven to 475 and bake until the sugar forms a slightly browned and glossy glaze.
I asked Marty how many people his galette would serve, and he said, “It depends on how much they want to eat!” Dainty pieces would serve up to 10; small servings, about 6.
Marty's Galette (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)

Marty's Galette (Courtesy of Deborah Yaffee)


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9 Responses to “The Last Gasp of Christmas”

  1. Julie says:

    Oh my, that looks (and sounds) absolutely heavenly (and certainly worth a sabbatical from healthy eating for the day). I’m not so sure I would even get six servings from Marty’s galette ;).

  2. Raoul Montchoux says:

    It’s always good to be reassured that Marty is still baking in West County!

    There are those of us who’ve already taken down the Christmas folderol and are exhausted by the litany of celebrations and required references and symbols – the Saints Days in early December (Lucia, Nicholas and others) herald the oncoming season and the minutiae of allusions. So I’m going to suggest that the Three Kings Cake revert to being a Pithivier and let’s leave it at that. The Pithivier was known as the “cake of kings” and I assumed the kings in question were the legions of male heirs named Louis, Henri or Charles, not Balthazar, Gaspar, and Melchior. On the other hand there is an aspect of the Pithiviers, long associated with the village from whence its name comes, and that is that Pithiviers was the location of a concentration camp during the last World War, and it was there that children and parents were separated and sent to other camps in Germany and France. Perhaps it is unfair to associate this unfortunate aspect of history with the pastry – it is, after all, merely coincidence – but the memory leavens one’s relishing the taste. But is it such a bad thing to be reminded that all is not sweetness and light? At any rate you’ve employed the term galette, and perhaps that is a fine compromise.

  3. tinkyweisblat says:

    You are right, Raoul, in asserting that a Galette des Rois is precisely a Pithivier, the only difference being, I believe, its relation to Epiphany (there’s no prize in a typical Pithivier). But I never tire of the Christmas folderol so I’m sticking to my terminology!

  4. Raoul Montchoux says:

    As it turns out there is a prize in certain Pithiviers: Trader Joe’s carry a frozen Pithiviers, that is easily baked, affordable, elegant and quite good. To have a Pithivier available year-round is itself quite a prize! Perhaps the galette can be relegated to the realm of dance: the ballerina performed a series of grands jetés before the ensemble began its galette triomphante.

  5. Thank you , Tinky, for printing this lovely article and the beautiful photos of Chef Marty and his sunny Three Kings Cake. They came from the class he did at Our Lady of Czestochowa on Sunday. Yes, there was indeed a lucky winner of the sacred prize inside….and we brought along a paper crown that she graciously agreed to wear for the rest of the class. The prize in past days of three kings cakedom was a bean, a tiny ceramic crown, and a tiny ceramic baby Jesus.

    In our litigious climate of the 21st century, Marty only uses an organic raw almond …. we don’t want any cracked teeth to spoil the day!

    He will be doing other puff-pastry classes at our little classroom in Shelburne Falls. The folks at Our Lady of Czestochowa asked that he come back and do a class on the various ways to use that puff pastry dough, both savory and sweet. Will let you know when that one comes up.

    In the meantime…recuperating from gorging on the galette will happen soon enough….when Marty makes up for it with his Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup class on January 17th. :–)

    Your blog is fantastic, Tinky! I hope you win the contest!!! I have a spare crown left from the class …with your name on it!

  6. Grad says:

    I’m not much of a baker, except for bread. I think I’ll wait and see how yours works out. But, this really does sound lovely. Puff pastry has always been daunting for me (so I buy it already made in the freezer section). I didn’t think I was bad over the holiday, until I tried to zip up my slacks this morning. Yipes! I think the Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup might be just right.

  7. Grad says:

    Oh, and do you remember Julia Child’s episode on Pithivier?

  8. tinkyweisblat says:

    I missed Julia’s Pithivier episode–which I know I would have enjoyed! With luck, I’ll get through with Marty’s guidance. We’ll all find out……

    You have my sympathy with the slacks, Grad. I’m in the same boat……..

  9. Deb says:

    Puff pastry is the one thing I have inconsistent performance with. But I have a son who loves almond anything starting with marzipan and running the gamut to almond buttercream frosted chocolate cup cakes! So I suppose I will have to try this.

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