Making my way again through the book that may very well be the best work of literature produced in our country in the last fifty years, Gilead, the very book an attempt to answer Jeremiah’s question with blessed less certainty and blessed more sincerity than the sung spiritual. Yes, there is a balm, and there is ever a wound, and somewhere there is a blessing in it, I suppose. The preacher narrator says, for him, writing has always felt like praying. My feeling exactly. The same with stirring up an almond-paste frangipane, cutting angles into the pastry roof of a norther French brioche king cake (ahem), or kneading my bread dough into window pane cohesion.
Gilead is an old father’s letter to his son, a telling of all the stories that come to consciousness so as to be known, but probably also just simply to etch his life itself into narrative; every writer scratches at the immortal itch with their plumes, each word a clarion call into the ether so that one’s lonely interior may live on in dialogue with and in company of readers for years beyond those one can claim with mere flesh.
How lovely, this Reverend John Ames’ recollection of baptizing a litter of kittens when he was young.
“…He told us no effect at all could be achieved by our methods, and we could not prove him wrong…I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand. Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing. It stays in the mind. For years we would wonder what, from a cosmic viewpoint, we had done to them. It still seems to me to be a real question. There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that.”
How silly, really then, all this writing so as to be known, as if that were a real question. Perhaps I write to perform the same comfort as Piglet when he reaches to touch Pooh, as they walk together side by side. “Yes, Piglet?” “Nothing. I just wanted to be sure of you.”
Treat yourself to a blessing and make this for a Sunday morning treat.
Galette de Rois
Adapted from Lousisiana Cooking
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon whole milk, divided
3 egg yolks
½ cup sugar, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 large eggs, divided
1 tablespoon orange liqueur*
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup almond flour
1 (17.3-ounce) package frozen puff pastry, thawed (2 sheets)
1 almond or piece of candied fruit
¼ cup maple syrup
In a large saucepan, bring 1 cup milk to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Remove from heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and flour.
Add about ½ cup hot milk mixture to eggs, whisking constantly. Add egg mixture to remaining hot milk mixture, whisking to combine. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve; discard solids.
Return mixture to pan, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Refrigerate pastry cream until cold, at least 1 hour.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, orange zest, and remaining ¼ cup sugar. Beat at medium speed until combined. Add 1 egg and orange liqueur, and beat until combined. Gradually add salt, almond flour, and remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch; beat until smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Refrigerate almond cream until cool, at least 30 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine pastry cream and almond cream. On a lightly floured surface, trim each sheet of puff pastry to an 8½- or 9-inch circle. Using a fork, lightly pierce both rounds all over. Brush the edges of one round with water. Starting from the center and moving outward, pipe almond cream onto pastry round, leaving a 1-inch border all the way around. Place almond or candied fruit somewhere in the cream.
Top with second puff pastry round and press with fingertips to seal the edges. Flip galette and re-seal edges from the opposite side. Use a sharp pairing knife, cut a design on top of galette, I like a six-point star that has slashes like below because it ends up looking like a patterned leaf when it bakes– and notch the edges. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.
In a small bowl, combine remaining 1 egg and remaining 1 teaspoon milk. Brush dough with eggwash, and refrigerate at least 1 hour. I like to use the extra dough for little mini bite-size galettes:
Preheat oven to 400°. The egg wash is key, be sure to lather it on. Bake galette for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 375°, and bake until deep-golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand on a wire rack until cool. Brush with maple syrup, and serve. Most beautiful pastry I think I’ve ever made.