Galette des rois, and plum pudding with Armagnac custard
The Magi. Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar. These men remind us that Christmas is not all about December 25. In our increasingly secular and commercialised society, it seems 2000-plus years of stories and traditions have all morphed into the festive extravaganza we call Christmas.
The feast of the Epiphany marks the Magi, or three wise men, coming to visit the baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, believing him to be the king of the Jews. This feast traditionally occurs on January 6. So here, a recipe for Christmas and a recipe for the Epiphany.
Galette des rois is a French staple for January 6. Hidden inside the cake is a bean or charm. And with the cake comes a cardboard crown. On feast day, the cake is sliced to give a portion to each guest, and an extra slice is set aside for the poor. A child calls the names of the guests and whoever gets the piece with the charm gets to wear the crown and be king for the day.
This pudding is a traditional plum pudding. The placing of a coin in a Christmas pudding is a 13th-century copying of the charm placed in the galette des rois. And if you think of the contents of Christmas crackers, what is the first thing we don? A paper crown. And here’s another small but important detail: there are 13 ingredients in the pudding (if you count the dried fruit as one). That is the representation of Jesus and his 12 disciples.
As I get older, I have found a renewed love for Christmas, as it really is partly a celebration of exceptional and complex storytelling. I do love a good story.
A couple of cooking notes on the two recipes. I have found this pudding to be as good on the day it is made as it is after being stored for weeks or months. The galette can last for days if you don’t eat it all at once. Just don’t refrigerate it.
Galette des rois
Almond f illing
– 100g almond meal
– 100g sugar
– pinch salt
– zest of ½ orange
– 100g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
– 2 large eggs, at room temperature
– 2 tsp rum
– ¼ tsp almond extract
– 500g puff pastry, divided in two pieces, chilled
– 100g apricot jam
– a whole piece of almond or small charm
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 tsp milk
To make the almond f illing, in a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer combine the almond meal, sugar, salt and orange zest. Mash in the butter until it’s completely incorporated. Stir in the eggs one at a time, along with the rum and almond extract. (The mixture may not look completely smooth, which is normal.) Cover and chill.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece of puff pastry into a circle about 28 centimetres round. Using a pot lid, plate or the bottom of a springform pan as a template, trim the dough into a neat circle. Place the dough on the baking sheet.
Cover it with a sheet of parchment paper or plastic f ilm, then roll the other piece of dough into a circle, trim it the same way and lie it on top. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
Remove the dough and almond f illing from the refrigerator. Slide the second circle of dough and parchment or plastic from the pan so that there is only one circle of dough on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the apricot jam on the pastry, leaving a three-centimetre exposed border. Pipe the almond f illing over the jam in a spiral. Place an almond or charm somewhere in the almond f illing.
Brush water generously around the exposed perimeter of the dough then place the other circle of dough on top of the galette and press down to seal the edges well. You may wish to chill the galette, since it will be a bit easier to f inish and decorate, although it is not absolutely necessary. It can be refrigerated overnight at this point.
To bake the galette, preheat the oven to 200ºC. Flute the sides of the dough and use a paring knife to create a design on top. Stir together the egg yolk with the milk and brush it evenly over the top – avoid getting the glaze on the sides, which will inhibit the pastry from rising at the edges. Use a paring knife to poke five holes in the top to allow steam to escape while baking.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the galette is browned on top and up the sides. Remove from the oven and slide the galette off the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Plum pudding with Armagnac custard
Serves 8 (with plenty of leftovers)
– 150g sultanas
– 150g currants
– 150g roughly chopped prunes
– 175ml Armagnac or cognac
– 150g cold suet or unsalted butter
– 100g plain flour
– 125g fresh breadcrumbs
– 150g dark brown sugar
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– ¼ tsp ground cloves
– 1 tsp baking powder
– finely grated zest of 1 lemon
– 3 large eggs, lightly whisked
– 1 medium cooking apple, peeled and grated
– 2 tbsp golden syrup or maple syrup
– 125ml Armagnac, extra (optional)
– 500ml milk
– ½ vanilla bean, split lengthways and seeds scraped
– 6 egg yolks
– 125g castor sugar
– 50ml Armagnac
I like to make one big pudding, in a 1.8-litre pudding bowl, but you can make individual ones or a series of different sizes. Just remember that smaller ones will take less time to cook.
Put all the fruit in a bowl with the Armagnac or cognac and mix so the fruit is well coated. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to soak overnight or for up to a week.
When you’re ready to finish the pudding mixture, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. (The pan needs to be big enough to hold your pudding bowl.) Grease your bowl basin – or bowls – with unsalted butter.
Coarsely grate the cold suet or butter into a large mixing bowl, then add all the remaining ingredients (except the extra Armagnac) and mix well. Add the steeped fruit with the soaking liquid and combine thoroughly.
Transfer the mixture to the prepared pudding bowl or bowls. Cover with two layers of baking paper and two layers of foil and secure with string, making sure the “skirts” are tucked up so they don’t draw in any water. Place in the pan of boiling water, making sure the water only comes halfway up the side. I like to place an egg ring at the bottom so the bowl is not directly on the heat. Boil for five hours, checking constantly that the pan hasn’t boiled dry.
Once cooked, the pudding will last in the fridge for months. During this time, I periodically splash a little Armagnac over it. To reheat the pudding, put a new paper and foil lid on it and boil for three hours.
To make the Armagnac custard, pour the milk into a saucepan, add the vanilla and bring to scalding point over a medium heat. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar for five minutes or until thick and pale. Pour the hot milk onto the yolk mixture and whisk to combine, then return to the saucepan and cook, stirring, over a medium heat for seven minutes or until thickened.
Remove from the heat and strain if required. Stir in the Armagnac, then pour into a heatproof jug.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 22, 2018 as "Eating up tradition". Subscribe here.