Pee-tee-vee-YAY. Yep, that’s how you pronounce pithivier – a little gem of a pastry that never fails to bring a bit of sunshine to the shorter winter days. Pithivier is more a work of design than an absolute on how and what it’s made of. There are a few absolutes, though. It must be made with puff pastry. It must be circular. And it must have the rays of the sun etched into the top of the pastry so that, when baked, it represents a golden sun motif. Other than that, you can go your own way, fill it with all manner of sweet and savoury fillings, and make small ones or large ones.
Julia Child once wrote of pithivier: “Certainly one of the most glorious reasons to master French puff pastry is the Pithiviers, a rum-flavoured almond cream baked between that buttery wonder dough, pâte feuilletée, known variously as flaky pastry and thousand-leaf dough as well as French puff pastry. The usual pattern for a Pithiviers is a wheel of swirling spokes starting at the steam hole and curving gracefully out to the edge where they spread out 1/2in apart.”
Here I have made a simple yet delicious seasonal version. Now is the time when the apples from the orchard are starting to get a little soft and chestnuts are for sale in the roadside stalls of my neighbourhood. Unlike Julia though, you don’t need to master the art of puff pastry, as there are a couple of really good all-butter puffs on the market. A good golden delicious apple at this time of year will serve you well. And unlike many battle-scarred cooking apprentices, you don’t need to peel a bag of chestnuts just to make a sweet chestnut purée. There are also some very delicious versions available ready-made, both French and Australian.
Enjoy these with a glass of calvados on a grey afternoon, and you will feel warmed and brightened.
– 250g block of quality puff pastry or a sheet 50cm x 30cm
– 2 apples, peeled, halved and core removed
– 100g sweetened chestnut purée
– 2 egg yolks, whisked lightly with a pinch of salt
– 100ml pure cream
– 100ml crème fraîche
– 1 tbsp icing sugar
– 1 tbsp calvados
Roll out the puff pastry, which should be three to four millimetres thick. Cut it into four 13-centimetre discs and four 15-centimetre discs. The smaller discs will form the base of the pithivier and the larger ones the top.
Carefully fill the cavity of each apple half with a spoonful of chestnut purée.
Place each filled apple half cut-side down, and rounded side up in the centre of the smaller discs. You should have at least a one-centimetre border around the apple. Brush egg yolk on the exposed pastry bottom rim.
Place the larger pastry rounds over the top of the apple, ensuring that you mound your palm so the pastry rests on the apple and firms up the shape. Press the edges with the point of a small knife to seal and make a decorative pattern. Refrigerate for an hour, along with the remaining egg yolk.
Preheat your oven to 210ºC.
Remove the pithiviers from the fridge. Brush the remaining egg yolk over the top of each pithivier. Make a Catherine wheel pattern using the dull side of a knife to draw curved lines that originate at the centre but arc out towards the edge. Be very careful to just score the pastry, not cut it all the way through.
Place the pastries on an oven tray lined with baking paper, put in the centre of the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the pithiviers are golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
Whip the pure cream, crème fraîche, icing sugar and calvados together until stiff. Serve the pithiviers with a quenelle of the flavoured cream and another spoonful of the sweetened chestnut purée.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 2, 2018 as "Little rays of sunshine". Subscribe here.