For us Americans, the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's feel like one long celebration. Happily throwing dietary caution to the winds, we eat, drink, and make merry —while also busily ensuring that everyone around us has the best holiday ever: be it Christmas, Chanukah, or simply get-togethers with family and friends.
In many parts of the Christian world, the celebration of Christmas actually continues through the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6 — 12 days after Christmas. In Spain and Latin America, the day is celebrated with Roscón de Reyes (or Rosca de Reyes), Three Kings' Cake. In New Orleans, Jan. 6 marks the start of Mardi Gras season, where King Cake is a colorful tradition.
But the Epiphany cake I've come to love the most? France's Galette des Rois, an ultra-buttery, remarkably flaky pastry crust stuffed with almond filling.
Now truth be told, I've never thought of myself as particularly keen for almond flavor — and by that I mean not the nuttiness of toasted almonds, but the distinctive taste of almond extract. Sweet and strong, it's characteristic of Italian amaretti cookies (or Almond Cloud Cookies), amaretto liqueur, and anything made with almond paste or marzipan: think classic Christmas stollen, for instance.
But in this particular cake — we call it King Arthur's Almond Galette — the strong almond flavor of the filling is nicely tempered with almond flour, plus butter and eggs and sugar and vanilla. Aromatic rather than assertive, it's a perfect complement to the buttery/flaky crust in which it's baked.
OK, have I waxed poetic enough for you? Make this pastry and I promise you, almond lover or not, you'll enjoy your very own epiphany around almond flavor.
Bonus: though it looks elegant (read: complicated), this confection is actually easy to throw together: easy as pie, in fact.
How to make Almond Galette
Let's start with the pastry crust:
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (16 tablespoons) cold butter
1/2 cup sour cream
Note: For a gluten-free version of this pastry, substitute our Measure for Measure flour for the all-purpose flour in both crust and filling. If you use Measure for Measure in this crust, add 2 tablespoons water to the dough along with the sour cream.
Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.
Cut the cold butter into pats, and work it into the flour mixture until it's unevenly crumbly, with larger bits of butter remaining intact.
Stir in the sour cream. The dough will be craggy but cohesive.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and bring it together, if necessary, with a few quick kneads.
Pat the dough into a rough square.
For flaky layers, fold and turn the dough
Now, here comes the simple technique that gives this crust its flaky layers.
First, roll the dough into a rough 8" x 10" rectangle. Make sure the underside is sufficiently dusted with flour that you can move it around easily.
Starting with one of the shorter (8") ends, fold the dough in thirds like a business letter.
Flip it over (so the open flap is on the bottom), and turn it 90°.
Roll the dough into an 8" x 10" rectangle again. Fold it in thirds again.
Wrap the dough in plastic, and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes (or overnight).
Prepare the filling
While the dough is chilling, make the filling. Here's what you need:
2/3 cup (6 ounces) almond paste
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup (1 3/8 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup (1 3/4 ounces) almond flour or very finely ground whole almonds
Beat the almond paste, butter, sugar, and salt until totally combined. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, and beat until well incorporated. Mix in the flours. The filling will be very stiff; use a bowl scraper to scrape it out of the mixing bowl.
When you're ready to roll, start preheating your oven to 400°F.
Assemble the galette
Divide the chilled dough in half.
Roll the dough
Roll half the dough into a 10" square. Notice how I didn't exactly make a square here; that's OK, and you'll see why later on.
Cut a circle
Use a dinner plate or other round template to cut a 10" circle. (My dinner plate was 9 1/2"; you can see how I cut the circle a bit larger than the plate.)
Pick up the circle (it's nice and sturdy), and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet.
Add the filling
Spread the filling over the circle, leaving a 1" rim of pastry around the edge of the filling.
Beat together 1 large egg yolk and 1 teaspoon cold water. Brush some of this glaze onto the uncovered edge of the pastry.
Roll the other piece of pastry into an 11" square. Cut an 11" circle. (Save the scraps; you'll be using them later.)
Add the top crust
Center the 11" circle of dough over the filled bottom crust, and smooth it over the filling. Using a fork, press and crimp the edge of the galette to seal.
This is starting to look pretty nice, eh?
Make a design
Decorate the galette by using the back of a knife to trace a pattern on the surface; you'll just barely cut into the surface without cutting all the way through. Poke a vent hole in the center, and four additional small slits at other random spots, hiding the slits in the pattern you've drawn.
Prepare the galette for baking
Brush the remaining glaze all over the galette.
Bake the almond galette
Bake the almond galette for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it's golden. Don't be afraid to let it become deeply browned; this slight caramelization gives the butter in the crust wonderful flavor.
Remove the galette from the oven, and let it cool right on the pan.
See those layers? Amazing what a few folds and turns can do when you're rolling out pastry crust.
Serve and enjoy
Serve the almond galette warm, or at room temperature. A small dollop of barely sweetened whipped cream, though absolutely untraditional, wouldn't be amiss.
Now, back to those scraps you trimmed when cutting the dough circles. If you've ever made a pie and trimmed its excess crust, you've probably sprinkled those scraps with cinnamon-sugar and baked them along with the pie for a really taste-tempting treat.
You can do the same thing with these galette dough scraps. I sprinkled some with cinnamon-sugar; others, I spread with jam and folded over on themselves. Yup, they definitely look messy; but oh, my, these "leftovers" are simply irresistible!
While this pastry celebrates Epiphany, there's no reason you can't make King Arthur's Almond Galette at other times of the year — or come up with your own variation. I'm thinking almond galette would be the perfect summer dessert served with a side of sliced fresh peaches or raspberries. Or how about adding a thin layer of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate underneath the almond filling? What would your favorite version of almond galette look like? Share with us in comments, below.