Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Galette des Rois / Kings' Cake

Traditionally, Galette des Rois is eaten on Epiphay, January 6th, to celebrate the day the Three Kings visited baby Jesus. Growing up in Texas, I'm more familiar with the New Orleans tradition of eating King Cake on Mardi Gras, which fell on February 16th this year. The New Orleans variation consists of a brioche dough filled with cinnamon sugar and topped with crystal sugar in the Mardi Gras colors of green, yellow, and purple, like this. The French version, on the other hand, is made from two disks of puff pastry filled with an almond cream filling, like this:

In an act of great cultural sacrilege, I made French-style Galette des Rois on Mardi Gras. After all, it's just as fattening as the New Orleans version, and that's what counts, right?

Galette des Rois is surprisingly easy to make once you have puff pastry on hand. I bravely made my own. You can also buy it ready-made, preferably the all-butter kind.

The filling for the cake is a mixture of pastry cream and almond cream. The recipe in Paris Sweets dictates 1/4 cup pastry cream to 3/4 cup almond cream. Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini prefers her filling to be only almond cream, since too much pastry cream imparts an overly rich, eggy taste. I thought 1:3 was a good ratio, especially I got the nice vanilla flavor from my vanilla-seed-studded pastry cream. I've been such a convert of using real vanilla beans since I made crème brûlée. The flavor of beans is so much more intense and balanced than bottled extracts.

Really, I should get a shirt that says "I bake with Real Vanilla".

The pastry cream is made by tempering egg yolks, cornstarch, and sugar with hot vanilla-infused milk, then cooking the custard over the stove until the starch sets. It's then cooled in a bowl of ice water (pictured below). I didn't have corn starch on hand, so I used potato starch, which has a lower gelling point. My pastry cream turned out more to be a creme anglais, but it was delicious nonetheless (there will be a much more extensive post on pasty creams at a later date, once I figure out how to get it to set properly). 

Almond cream, in comparison, is much more fool-proof. You just put all the ingredients (butter, confectioners' sugar, ground almonds, flour, starch, egg) in the food processor and blend until smooth. I learned that confectioners' sugar likes to fly everywhere, even more than flour. At least it doesn't melt upon touch like tiny shards of shaved chocolate that inevitably falls off the chopping board when you're chopping half a pound of chocolate by hand...

The almond cream comes together quite nicely, it's very creamy and smooth.

To make the Galette des Rois filling, mix together 1/4 cup pastry cream, 3/4 cup almond cream, and a good tablespoon of dark rum. I learned while studying for my wine certification that dark rum could either result from extensive oak aging (expensive) or added caramel (cheap). I wonder which camp my Meyer's rum falls into...

Once the filling is ready, the fun part starts. Roll out 7 oz of puff pastry into a 9 inch circle, and roll out another 7 oz of puff pastry into a 9.5 inch circle. Chill the circles before handling.

First, paint a 1-inch egg-wash border on the 9 inch circle, but don't go overboard. You don't want it squishing out the sides later.

Next, spoon the filling into the middle.

Then, cover the whole thing with the 9.5 inch circle. If you had a light hand with the egg wash, you shouldn't have egg oozing out the sides...

Cover the top with egg wash, taking care not to have it drip down the sides. Egg wash on the edge = glued-down pastry = no rise.

Finally, carve a pretty pattern on top and make a steam hole in the middle.


Chill the whole thing in the fridge for 30 minutes, then bake it at 475 F for 20 minutes, then 400 F for 40 minutes. It'll come out glorious and golden brown. It'll be tall too, if you were careful with the egg wash (I wasn't really, the pinched edges are where the egg wash was too heavy).

I had some leftover puff pastry and filling, so I made a second, smaller galette. In a moment of inspired creativity (or was it from smelling the rum?), I mashed half a ripe banana and mixed it into the filling. I also tried a lattice pattern on top.

I brought the larger galette to work, but the smaller one was greedily consumed at home. The fragrance of the banana paired very well with the rum and the rich buttery pastry. And it was so pretty, too! If you look closely, you can see the tiny specks of vanilla seeds in the filling.

The Galette des Rois was a huge hit at work. I'll definitely be making it again, although maybe with store-bought puff pastry next time...

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