After the debauchery comes le détox.

I ate so much. It’s awful. Salads from now on.

This a common refrain in January, one that we seem to come across just about everywhere – magazine articles, ads, blogs, the Lifestyle section of newspapers, and even the water cooler at work. It seems that everyone is in “detox”* mode, eliminating and abstaining after The Great Big Binge; groaning, biting their lower lips and confessing about just how bad they’ve been.

Fifty Shades of Fruitcake.

(*I have very strong opinions about the word “detox” as it applies to diet, which is why I’m puting it in quotations. Unless it’s being used to describe the process of someone coming off hard drugs or being treated for mercury poisoning, the word “detox” is a unicorn word – pretty, but imaginary.)

I think it’s fascinating how much we link food to guilt. Ingredients are compartmentalized into strict categories of “good” and “bad”, so that when we’ve had a slice of cake we’ve been naughty, but if we drink nothing but juice for ten days straight, we’re suddenly very, very good. Schedule in that colonic and you’re well on your way to sainthood.

With the turn of the calendar on January 1st, there comes reflection, regret, and the goal of redemption. How do I undo all the bad things I’ve done? How do I wipe the slate clean? The terms detox, clean eating and carb-free – the Holy Trinity of Orthorexia – have cemented themselves into the language we use to talk about healthy eating, especially around the time everyone’s making resolutions they won’t keep. And frankly, it

drives

me

mental.

I can understand the desire for self-improvement. I can get behind the idea of not eating in excess and limiting the intake highly processed foods. But I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any favours by adopting attitudes of excessive food guilt; nor do I think that a handful of gummy bears is the difference between living a virtuous life or a debased one.

There was  an article I read recently about the French approach to food (we’re using wide-sweeping generalisations about the French here, but still…), making the argument that food and pleasure can and should co-exist. I think there’s something to be said for the this model of eating, which not only allows for pleasure, but encourages it. You want a piece of cheese? Have it. A glass of wine. Yes. You eat your vegetables too – not because you have to, but because they’re vibrant and exciting and delicious and they too will make you feel good.  I recognise that, especially in the last decade or so, the French have also adopted some of the same health trends as North Americans (after all, sans gluten shops have been popping up in Paris and both BBC Travel and The New York Times posted articles about the demise of the baguette in France), but I still think that the French take their food very seriously, in that it’s supposed to be enjoyed, savoured, appreciated, not admonished on the basis of calories or the fact that it doesn’t abide to the diet du jour.

Which brings me to galette des rois.

In January, while half of North America is suffering through Gwyneth-esque cleanses, the French are celebrating. In anticipation of the Epiphany, on January 6th, bakeries start to fill their vitrines with large, round cakes with scored tops called galette des rois – two layers of puff pastry, with crème d’amande (almond cream) in between. A fève (bean) is hidden inside the galette before baking and whomever gets the slice with the fève becomes “king” or “queen” for the day and gets to wear a nifty paper crown. Many bakeries in Montreal offer them through the month of January, but on a whim, I decided to try making one this year (with mixed results, see more below).

It’s celebratory food. It’s January food. It’s the food that we cherish because it’s special and because we don’t eat it everyday. And for those reasons, it’s meant to be enjoyed with gusto, not the guilt we’ve been trained to carry with us each time we raise a forkful of cake to our mouths.

So, I invite you – to pull up a chair, a plate, and dig in.

Galette des rois (serves 8) – from Clotilde Dusoulier’s site Chocolate and Zucchini

Note: in true French fashion, these measurements are in grams, allowing for more accuracy. If you don’t already have a kitchen scale, consider buying one – they come in different price ranges. I bought an electric one for 20$ a few years ago and it’s one of the best kitchen gadgets I own.

  • 500 grams (17 2/3 ounces) all-butter puff pastry, thawed if frozen
    For the crème d’amande:
  • 125 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 grams granulated sugar
  • 130 grams almond flour (i.e. almond meal or finely ground
    almonds)
  • 8 grams corn starch
  • a good pinch sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon rum (or Grand Marnier)
    For the eggwash and glaze:
  • 1 egg yolk
    Accessories:
  • 1 porcelain trinket or dried bean
  • 1 paper crown

Galette des rois

Directions*:

(*what you see below might seem like a daunting list of directions, but I promise – especially since you’re using bought puff pastry – it’s a pretty simple recipe.)

1) Prepare the crème d’amande: Beat the butter until creamy, but avoid incorporating air into it. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, almonds, corn starch, and salt. Stir with a whisk to remove any lumps. Add to the almond mixture to the creamed butter and mix until smooth. Add the rum, then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.

2) Roll out the puff pastry: Divide the puff pastry in 2 equal pieces, and roll each one out to form a rough circle a little larger than 12 inches in diameter. Use a sharp knife and an upturned plate of the right dimension to cut a neat 12-inch circle out of one, and a slightly larger one with the other, adding about 1/4 inch all around the edge of the plate.

3) Assemble the galette: Place the smaller of the two circles on a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk with a tablespoon water (or milk, if you have it handy) until smooth. Using a pastry brush, brush the outer rim of the dough lightly with the eggwash by a width of about 1 inch. Make sure not to wet the actual edge of the dough, or it will impede its rise. Pour the crème d’amande in the center and spread it out inside the eggwash ring with a spatula. Place a porcelain fève, a dried bean, or the trinket of your choice in the crème d’amande. Press it down gently to bury it. Transfer the second round of dough precisely on top of the first, smooth it out gently over the crème d’amande to remove any air pockets, and press it down all around the sides to seal.

4) Score the galette: Using the back of the tip of your knife (i.e. the dull side), draw a decorative pattern on top of the galette, using just enough pressure to score the dough without piercing it (skip to 7:30 of this video for an example of scoring design) (I free-styled it!). Brush the top of the galette lightly with the egg wash: again, make sure it doesn’t drip over the edges, or the egg wash will seal the layers of the puff pastry in this spot and it won’t rise as well. Using the tip of your knife, pierce 5 holes in the top dough – one in the centre, and four around the sides – to ensure an even rise. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or silicone baking sheet, like a Silpat) and refrigerate for 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can place the galette in the freezer at this point, on the baking sheet, and bake it the next day).

Galette des rois

Galette des rois

5) Bake the galette: Preheat the oven to 360°F; if the galette was in the freezer, take it out while the oven preheats. Insert the galette in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes (35 if it was frozen), until puffy and golden brown. Place on a rack to cool completely and serve at room temperature (or, if you prefer, rewarm slightly in the oven before serving).

***WORD TO THE WISE: don’t attempt to slice the sides of the puff pastry after you’ve laid one layer on top of the other, as I did (I tried to make a more symetrical circle). Doing so will cause the crème d’amande to spill out in a dramatic fashion…

Galette des rois

That said, most things are fixable, especially when it comes to “rustic” home cooking…

(and it turns out that the baked filling is delicious on its own.)

Galette des rois