Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Rather Wonderful Thing

Tradition is a rather wonderful thing, little customs passed down through the generations, things that you do for the simple reason that’s what your mother did and that she did because that’s what her mother did. These rituals remain constant throughout life even when everything else is changing, no matter where you are it’s these traditions that can make somewhere, anywhere, feel like home.

Defined by the Chambers 21st Century Dictionary tradition is:
“noun 1 a something, such as a doctrine, belief, custom, story, etc, that is passed on from generation to generation, especially orally or by example; b the action or process of handing down something in this way. 2 a particular body of doctrines, beliefs, customs, etc that belongs to a specified group of people, religion, country, family, etc. 3 colloq an established, standard or usual practice or custom.”

But to me, I must admit, tradition means something simpler, greedier; food. I must also admit, greedier still, that sometimes the things I celebrate aren’t even my traditions. This Galette des Rois for example, a fantastic French cake made to celebrate epiphany.

Now it’s not that we don’t acknowledge epiphany over here in England, it’s just that we don’t have a specific way of celebrating it, there’s certainly no cake involved and I can’t help feeling that even if there was we wouldn‘t do it quite as well as the French have.

Beneath a blanket of crisp puff pastry is a layer of sweet, damp frangipane in which a trinket or bean “la fève” is hidden. Whoever gets this trinket is crowned King (or Queen) for the day and gets to wear the gold paper crown which would come with the galette had it been bought. To make it fair, and I think this is my favourite part, the youngest in the family is meant to sit under the table whilst the galette is being sliced and call out names, deciding who gets which piece.

There’s another fantastic thing about tradition, something I forgot to mention earlier, and that is how it always has to start somewhere. Whilst, strictly speaking, this might not be my tradition, in a few years time who knows?

Galette des Rois
from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess

2x 500g packets of puff pastry
400g ground almonds
250g unsalted butter, very soft (or margarine)
250g caster sugar
50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tsp orange flower water (next time I'll probably use more)
a dried bean or charm
gold paper crown
26 cm springform tin

Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6/390°F, putting a baking sheet in to heat up at the same time.
Roll out one of the packets of puff pastry till you can cut out a big enough circle to line the bottom and sides of your tin, with a generous overhang. Put into the fridge whilst you make the frangipane: put all the remaining ingredients (from ground almonds to orange flower water) into a food processor and whizz until amalgamated (I don't have a food processor so I had to beat it all together by hand, it was really still an difficult to mix so I added in a tablespoon or so of water).

Open the other packet of puff pastry and roll it out till you've got enough to cut out a circle about 5cm bigger than the diameter of your tin. Get the tin out of the fridge and dollop in the frangipane, hide the charm somewhere, level with a spatula, then place the top round to cover. Using scissors snip the overhang so both bottom and top only have about 2-3 cm excess round the edge. Curl the edges over inwards, so you've got a tightly sealed rim then press round with the tines of a fork. Now decorate the top of the galette: make a small hole in the centre with a small sharp knife, then using the same knife draw swirly lines, like elongated S's, coming out from the centre (Now, this is what Nigella says to do but I decorated the top before I put it on top of the frangipane and I think it's much easier that way).

Place on the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and well risen. Remove to a wire rack and leave at least 20 minutes before removing from the tin. Present the crown to whoever gets the bean.

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