King of King's (Cakes, that is)
Every year, I almost forget how much I love galette des rois, as they are only seasonally available. Kind of like Christmas. So in a similar fashion to celebrating the holidays, eating galettes every January is like rekindling an old and familiar romance.
It's very hard to describe why galette des rois is one of my favorite French pastries ever. But if I really had to deconstruct it, I would say that it all comes down to the fact that I adore each ingredient on it own, so when they're smashed together -- it's pure magic. Let's talk more about these two elements, shall we ?
The first is pâte feuilletée, or puff pastry. In a professional kitchen, we would ideally be producing and using our own puff pastry, fait maison ('made in house'). While it is completely possible to make puff pastry in a home kitchen without a professional dough sheeter, I am of the opinion that the payoff is just not quite worth the time. Lamination done by hand is always going to be denser because humans are great and all, but .. you know, not machines. The commercially sold product is pretty good too, so why not take advantage of what's already available ?
The second element is frangipane, which is crème d'amande (almond cream) mixed with a certain percentage of its weight in pastry cream. This percentage can vary by recipe and by application, but is usually in the 28-38% range [i.e. 150 g pastry cream : 400 g almond cream].
Now, almond cream itself is super simply composed of four ingredients: equal parts of almond flour, sugar, and butter — mixed with eggs [and a spot of rum, if you’re feeling like adulting]. This filling constitutes the base of so many French pastry recipes, it’s definitely a staple to file away in your mental Rolodex. [Seriously, every time my chef in pastry school said that we were going to make crème d'amande, the entire class groaned collectively 😹] Frangipane is used almost as widely as almond cream, but perhaps its most globally renowned application is in these lovely galette des rois [or King’s Cakes] that come around every January to celebrate Epiphany -- specifically the visit of the three Magi to a newborn Jesus.
C R E M E d’ A M A N D E 125 g [1 1/3 cup] almond flour 125 g [5/8 cup] sugar 125 g [1/2 cup] butter 2 eggs [100-120 g]
12 g [scant tablespoon] rum, optional
1 teaspoon almond extract, optional All ingredients should be at room temperature. Paddle together the first three, before adding eggs one a a time. Lastly, incorporate the seasonings and mix until homogenous.
P A S T R Y | C R E A M
158 g milk
50 g egg yolk
45 g sugar
21 g custard powder (or cornstarch)
7 g flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 g butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat milk and cream to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, custard powder, flour, and salt. Once the dairy is hot, temper it into the egg mixture, whisking well.
Return everything to the pot and cook over low heat until thick and smooth. Whisk constantly to prevent cream from overcooking or burning. Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl, and add butter and vanilla. Mix well.
Allow to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent skin from forming. Set aside until ready to use.
F R A N G I P A N E 400 g almond cream 116 g pastry cream Make sure both creams are at an ambient temperature. Whisk each one separately before folding them together. Voilà ! That’s it 😊
A S S E M B L Y
1 box puff pastry (containing two sheets of dough)
~200 g frangipane (about half of the above recipe)
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Working with one rectangle of thawed puff pastry at a time, place each dough on a sheet of parchment paper. Use a rolling pin to gently smooth out the creases. The dough doesn't need to be perfect; most of these inconsistencies will iron themselves out in the baking process.
Chill in the fridge or freezer, if necessary, to maintain a cold dough. Then take a large pastry ring (or bowl, if you're working with limited resources in a home kitchen, like me), and cut out a circle of dough. Repeat with the second dough. I used a bowl with a ~7 inch diameter.
Once you have your two rounds of dough, keep one to work with, and reserve the other in the fridge. Use another circular object that is at least 2" less in diameter than your round, to lightly trace a circle on the dough. This will be your guide for where to pipe the frangipane. Anything from the end of a paintbrush, to the back side of a knife, can be used to trace this circle; just be careful not to poke or cut through to the other side.
I used a funnel with a ~5 inch diameter, because that was what I had available !
Then, using a piping bag (or ziploc -turned piping- bag), pipe the frangipane within the traced border, before smoothing the top with a small offset spatula.
It will look something like this:
Freeze this round of dough until the almond cream is firm. Prepare a small bowl of water in the meantime. Once the round is sufficiently chilled, remove it from the freezer, and use a brush or finger to evenly wet the perimeter of exposed dough.
Take out your second dough round from the refrigerator, and place on top. Gently smooth this dough around the frangipane, pressing out pockets of air as needed, before sealing the dough rounds together. I use my hands in a cupping motion like this:
Now you have a beautiful UFO ! Use another bowl that is slightly (~ 1/2 inch) smaller in diameter than your flying saucer, and cut off the excess dough with a knife.
Freeze this again for several hours (or overnight), until chilled through and completely firm. The rest in the chill chest will allow the galette to retain a beautiful and flat surface for the design step coming up. You can also store them in the freezer at this stage, if you're not quite ready to bake, or if you just want to stock up ! Simply wrap the frozen galette in two layers of cling film, and return to the freezer.
Otherwise, once the galette is chilled through, and you're ready to draw your design, flip it over so that it looks like this:
Then transfer it to the refrigerator and allow it to temper for ~30 minutes. Mix the egg yolk with a pinch of salt. Remove the galette from the fridge, and brush an even layer of your egg wash on top.
Return the galette to the refrigerator, and let the egg wash "dry out" for at least 2 hours before repeating the egg wash step. The rest period in between egg washes allows you to brush on the second layer without disturbing the first.
Chill for 30 minutes before using a sharp paring knife or utility blade to draw your desired design on the surface. Work as quickly as possible to maintain the cold temperature of the galette.
This step is my favorite part of the entire process, and where you can let your creativity shine ! The traditional design consists of curved lines radiating from the center, but I chose to do a more organic "wood grain" effect on this one. Once you're done, use your knife to poke a few slits in the top for ventilation. I like to do these in the existing lines so as not to disturb the design.
Return your finished galette to the fridge while you preheat the oven to 375 F. Depending on how long it sits out while you're working, you may need to chill it longer until it's as cold as it can be. The temperature of the galette pre-bake is deceptively important. A cold dough expands more evenly and retains its shape better, which means a more circular galette, and more distinct lines of the design, upon baking.
Once the galette is thoroughly chilled, bake it for at least 40 minutes, until the puff pastry is golden brown. While it's baking, prepare your simple syrup by bringing the water and sugar to a boil. Set aside to cool until ready to use.
When the galette is fully baked, remove from the oven and immediately brush on the simple syrup.
Now, you can see in this picture above, the frangipane that has migrated out of the puff pastry borders. And if you've seen my Instagram post about this galette, you'll know already that it was a huge baking fail. After ten minutes in the oven, the frangipane leaked out the sides, causing the top round of dough to slide off almost completely.
I have made countless galettes in my time, and this had never happened before ! I panicked, before resigning myself to overwhelming disappointment at the fact that it would not be perfect. I even thought that I would scrap the whole post, because I was so ashamed. My clearly very rational solution was to scarf the galette down as soon it was done baking, so that no one would ever know. It would be as if it never even existed.
But, mistakes are incredibly important to share and discuss. In fact, I always tell my team that they are integral to the process of learning and becoming a chef, or leader in general. How can you empathetically guide someone if you have no idea how to help them identify, let alone fix, a problem they might have run into ?
So here is the breakdown of what went wrong, and my tips to avoid making the same mistake !
T I P S
If I can recommend investing in any one kitchen tool, it would be a food scale. When making this galette, I was working in a different city, out of an unfamiliar kitchen that did not have a scale available, so I used volumetric measurements to the best of my abilities.
I noticed that the almond cream was a bit runny/ eggy, because the eggs were probably larger than the ones I normally with, but I had no way of knowing for sure. My natural instinct was to add more almond flour and sugar, but I intentionally decided against doing so, purely out of a desire to test the volumetric measurements.
Sure enough, this egg runoff would later leak through the sealed dough edges, effectively allowing the two rounds to separate. So long story short, please get a kitchen scale if you haven't already !
My personal favorite is the Escali Primo Digital scale, available here on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Escali-P115WR-Precision-Lightweight-Lifetime/dp/B0007GAX04
It's what we used at The French Laundry, and I have been partial to them ever since.
So that's it for this week, friends. This story serves as both a cautionary tale, and a friendly reminder to allow yourself some grace, in the kitchen as in life ! Happy baking ~