Happy New Year! Let’s celebrate Le Réveillon (a huge feast and party) with Le Galette des Rois (King’s Cake)
The new year brings hope of new beginnings and closure to old endings. I started January 1st by watching the sunrise at Shelter Island and then viewing a brilliant, fiery sunset at Mission Beach in San Diego.
My dreams and aspirations for this year are to write this blog at least twice a month, continue with my French lessons, immerse myself in nature, and once again travel abroad.
Curious about how the French ring in the new year, I quizzed my friend Jacques, who lives in Villeneuve-Sur-Lot in southwestern France about his traditions and discovered that the French take the celebration seriously.
Here is what he has to say about the réveillon or new year’s celebration.
Yes we celebrate what we call “le réveillon de la saint Sylvestre. ” We have a get together with friends at 9 or 10 pm. We need a large house for that. This year we were 16 old friends at the same table. We eat and we drink a lot. This year we have eaten:
foie gras with Champagne as appetizers
lots of veggies (potatoes , celery, chestnuts)
salad and cheese
lots of cakes
When midnight arrives we stop to eat and we give lots of kisses and we never forget to say ” bonne et heureuse année!” (Happy New Year!) This is our special feast. And I think we’re numerous in France to celebrate the New Year like that. Some of us buy a few branches of mistletoe in order to decorate houses, trees , lights and so on. It’s an old , very old story which comes from the Gauls…
When I was young I remember that we had a dinner at 8pm …then comes “le Réveillon” when 12 comes: oysters and foie gras. Nowadays we have only one meal like I have tried to describe. At midnight (or in the morning) we use to call friends in order to wish them a happy New Year .
On January 6th, or the first Sunday of January, the French celebrate Epiphany and on this day, make or buy a Galette des Rois, (King’s Cake), an almond crème filled puff pastry. What makes this cake special is the fava bean tucked into the filling. The person who bites into or discovers the fava bean becomes king or queen, receives a paper crown, and chooses a partner. This person is then usually responsible for making or buying next year’s cake.
I have fond memories of learning the fine art of puff pastry while a student at La Varenne in Paris. This multi-layered dough is quite a time-consuming process in itself but well worth the effort should you attempt it. In a nutshell, you carefully combine flour, water, salt, and cold butter as you would for a pie crust. Bring the mixture together to form a rectangle; let it rest then roll it out to a 10” X 10” square; add more butter, rolling and folding over itself several times it so the butter is evenly dispersed. This creates layer upon layer of delicate, flaky pastry which will rise three to four times its original height during baking. If you rolled and turned the pastry six times, you would have 729 layers! Our adorable pastry instructor, Albert Jorant, with his twinkling blue eyes and beaming smile, shows me how to handle the dough for this galette. Placing his hands on mine, we pat the dough together. Suddenly he exclaims, “Your hands are cold! You will make the perfect pastry chef!” That was the beginning of my culinary career. His confidence in my cold hands empowered me. From that day on, he took me under his wing and attentively instructed me on the fine art of French desserts. His enthusiasm and passion was contagious and soon, my puff dough was rising sky-high. Because puff pastry is such a delicate dough to produce, if you don’t feel up to the challenge, I recommend purchasing it from Trader Joe’s, major supermarket chains which carry Pepperidge Farms Puff Dough or your local French bakery, which is what I did. Julia Child created an easier method for making puff pastry. See her book, The Way to Cook, page 389. King Arthur Flour also has a classical recipe as well as a shortened version of puff dough on their website.
Here is the traditional recipe for Galette des Rois.
Puff Pastry Dough, about 1 ½ lbs.
For the Almond Crème: From a La Varenne recipe
½ cup softened butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 cup almond flour (find at Trader Joe’s or health food stores)
2 Tbls. Flour
2 Tbls. dark rum or 1 tsp. vanilla
Egg glaze: 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. of water
Cream the butter and sugar together until soft and creamy. Add the egg. The mixture will look curdly at first but then come together as a fluff. Add the egg yolk and beat well again. Stir together the almond flour and flour. Carefully stir in the almond/flour mix into the creamed butter. Stir in the rum or vanilla. You can chill this mixture until ready to use or for several days.
If making your own pastry, roll to ¼” thick. Cut two 9” circles out of the pastry dough and chill.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. If using a convection oven, heat to 400 degrees.
Take the chilled circles out of the frig. Place one circle on a cookie sheet. Spread the almond crème into the center of the circle and spread it to within ½” of the edge. Brush the egg glaze on the edge of the dough taking care not to let the glaze run down the sides of the dough. If this happens, it will seal the edges together and prevent the dough from rising.
Take the second circle out of the frig and score it decoratively with a series of arcs. Place the pretty second circle evenly on top of the almond crème, pressing the edges together. I took the handle of a wooden spoon and pressed it into the crust edge all the way around to create small indentations and insure that the crème would not leak out.
Glaze the top of the galette with the egg glaze and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake in a hot oven for 25 minutes. The crust will be dark brown. Make sure you cook it long enough or the dough in the inside will still be raw. Look on the bottom of the galette and if it is dark brown, the chances are good that it is cooked thoroughly.
Let cool, then slice into wedges. The filling is amazing and will forever more be my go-to almond filling. I made it with the rum and am glad I did. Its dense subtle sweetness hinting of rum was reminiscent of the fine pastries of Paris. You will not be disappointed!
May your year be filled with special moments, places and faces.