Friday, January 11, 2013

King's almond galette... long live food rituals

During the whole month of January, most French families have one favorite food ritual they can look forward to. The “Kings' galette”.

It is originally made to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th. The tradition of the cake on that day is typically French and was instituted by the church in the 13th century. But contrary to a lot of countries in the world where the Epiphany remains a very religious celebration, it has become widely secular in France

Part of what makes this so fun, is the placing of a “fève”, nowadays a small porcelain figure, inside the galette. This was an 11th century Roman tradition of placing either a coin, or for the poorest, a dried fava bean (fève in French) inside a loaf of bread to determine the leader of a group (whoever got the piece of bread with the coin or bean was the leader).

The celebration as most French families do it today is a sort of hodgepodge of these two traditions. A “fève” (it is now mostly a small porcelain figure) is placed inside the almond galette. The tradition says it is to be cut into the number of guests plus one, the portion “for the poor” (to be given to the first poor person passing by – I remember my mom telling me about the “for the poor” piece, and how it made me realize as a young child that some people out there may not have enough to eat.) A napkin is placed over the galette, and the youngest member of the group goes under the table and designates to whom each piece is to be given. The one who gets the piece with the fève is designated the “king”, and gets to choose his queen (or vice versa).

We know how rituals in general are good for young children especially. They are landmarks in their life, something expected that makes them feel safe, something fun to look forward to, whether it’s the bedtime ritual, or the Sunday morning ritual, whatever that may be for each family. When we go through a ritual, we are in the moment, engaged, centered. When I think ritual, I think: comfort, slow, reassuring, mindful, grounding. I think as adults in this busy 21st century life pulling us in all directions, we need our own rituals just as much as our children do. (I recommend this great post on Food Loves Writing on this topic, by the way).

So of course, you may not be surprised to hear some of my favorite rituals are food rituals. Cooking and enjoying family meals, are some of the rituals that help keep me grounded every day.

Food rituals are a big part of the approach to food in France. I grew up with all kinds of them, whether it was the placing of a fork under the plate for the vinaigrette to eat artichoke leaves, or the tapping of the soft-boiled egg and the dipping of the mouillettes, or the cutting of a radish into a flower to insert a sliver of butter in it, to be devoured with a sprinkle of salt.

A ritual means you are taking the time to do something of value, and you are mindful of what you are doing, you are engaged in it, with mind and body. Food rituals are a great opportunity to teach, and learn, this mindfullness in an organic way, as they make food fun, they make the eating experience special and pleasurable. They create a positive association, all wonderful things, all part of the education of taste.

This galette is definitely one of the most beloved food rituals for French kids. It is usually an opportunity for the whole family to get together and share a playful moment. Usually families have the galette a few times throughout January, an excuse to get together with friends and relatives they may have missed during the holidays. It’s a wonderful moment where all generations get together, to be all about the galette, and the fun of waiting to find out who gets to be king or queen.

Now, if you will allow me to go on a tangent here, for the sake of contrast.

I have started taking Pablo to a toddler art class at a well-known national kids’ activity center. And to my great amazement (aka inner cringing), at 9:50am, the toddlers are offered a snack! And not only that... but the snack consists of a good ¼ cup of goldfish (cringe cringe). And not only that... but the goldfish is to be eaten while the teacher reads a story!

So I kindly said we “didn’t do snacks” in our family, let Pablo have 3 goldfish so he didn’t feel completely excluded, and that seemed to work fine. I have three major issues with this, one of which I’m interesting in exploring here:

  1. I don’t think a snack is warranted at 9:50 in the morning. Pablo has a good breakfast around 8am, and then eats lunch at 12pm.
  2. If there must be a snack, does it have to be a high sodium processed food like goldfish, seriously? How about some grapes, or slices of apple?
  3. But most importantly, are we conditioning our children to be unable to listen to a story, or watch a movie, or do any activity requiring to sit still and pay attention, without munching on something? Talk about teaching mindless eating, which can have such terrible health consequences later on. And when we eat, must we be doing something else? Precisely I am teaching Pablo to focus and savor his (good quality) food, listen to his body, and enjoy the moment.
So at the far opposite side of the spectrum of mindless goldfish eating, the celebration and savoring of the galette as a multigenerational group experience, where everyone is in the moment, not doing anything else than enjoying the galette and each other’s company in a playful way, is a fantastic food ritual creating so many wonderful associations in our minds.

So why not give it a try with your loved ones? Start the new year by creating a new tradition, a new family ritual, by experiencing a moment of togetherness with the ones you love, sharing a playful moment of connection where children and adults are on the same plane.
Every bakery and supermarket sells galettes starting January 1st, but I’ve started making it myself in the US out of necessity, and it is very easy and just delicious homemade.

As far as the crust, let me just say it: I am scared of making puff pastry! But that won’t stop me from trying some time this year, I promise. But for this one, I did what most French do, I bought the frozen puff pastry, and it works just fine (I got mine at Trader Joe’s, it was very good).

So, are you willing to give it a try? Would you like to institute new food rituals for your family? Which food rituals do you already have and cherish? Please share, I really would love to know.

Kings' Almond Galette

Adapted from this great video tutorial in French
Prep time: 25 mn
Cook time: 35 mn

Serves 8

Age for babies: 10-12 months to be given a taste of almond paste and puff pastry (watch out if you put a fève of course, no whole almonds until they've got some molars).

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry
1 stick of unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
4.5 oz almond meal
2 eggs + 1 for the egg wash
1 tbsp milk
1 fève (an almond does the trick)

Take the puff pastry out of the freezer, leave it out to thaw, if soft enough, gently unroll onto a floured board.

In a large bowl, beat the soft butter and sugar together until combined. Add the almond meal and beat until combined. Add the two eggs, one at at time, mixing well each time.

Place one sheet of puff pastry on parchment paper. If it broke or crackled a bit, patch it together (but don't make it a ball, patch it together flat). Use a large round pie mold as a cutter to make a circle.  Repeat for the second sheet.

With a brush, wet the edge around the crust, paying attention not to go over the edge.

Spoon and spread evenly the almond mixture in the center of the crust. If you wish, place the "fève" now, vertically so it's easier to hide. I used an almond.

Delicately place the second circle of puff pastry over the first. With your fingers, press all around, turning the edges inward a bit to seal the galette. With a small knife, make small incisions all around the edge of the galette (without actually cutting through the dough).

In a small bowl, mix the milk with the remaining egg. Brush this egg wash onto the top of the galette, careful not to wet the edges, as it would keep the galette from swelling nicely.

Place the galette in the fridge and let it rest for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven at 450°F.

Brush the galette a second time with the egg wash. With a knife, let your creative spirit flow and draw a crown or anything you like on top (careful not to pierce through the dough though). I was particularly creative and just did straight lines....

Place the galette in the oven and bake at 450°F for about 10-12 minutes, until the top is golden. Then lower the heat to 350°F and bake for another 20 minutes.

While it's baking, boil 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water, until sugar is dissolved. Let it cool.

When the galette comes out of the oven, brush sugar water on top and let cool, it'll give it that nice shiny gloss on top.

Eat lukewarm. (Can be reheated in the oven for 10 min at 200°F.)

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  1. What a great food ritual - loved reading your post :-)

  2. Great idea and a great french food ritual. Thanks for the post!

  3. I love that you made your own galette!! I grew up celebrating the epiphany with this tradition too and always looked forward to it! I have bought our galette since we have lived in la, though growing up my mom always made it! I am filing your recipe and am totally going to attempt to make it for next year! Great post!
    I totally understand your frustration with the snack- I am struggling with this too. It would be so much simpler if our American food culture was not so obsessed with snacking! Having a stricter meal time schedule has actually been so much more liberating for me honestly because I am never caught without a snack or scrambling to feed my son when he is hungry at a random time. We just have the schedule and know what to expect. I look forward to more posts and ideas from readers on how they/you between the two food cultures!
    I wanted to ask you a question- I see that you frequently give a fruit compote as a snack- is that just steamed and pureed fresh fruit?

    1. Hi Sarika, always good to read your insightful comments :-) You don't have to wait til next year to make it :-) I'm definitely making it again this month.
      Yes, it's going to be an ongoing battle with the snacking with school etc, I'm ready for it, I just couldn't believe it was in a toddler class setting like that... And it can also be seen as a nice opportunity to teach our kids about different cultures and different habits. I think food is great to teach children how to accept newness, and differences.
      On the fruit compotes, yes, they are very simple steamed pureed fresh (or frozen) organic fruit. Sometimes he has just fruit instead, depends on his mood, but he often really likes the very smooth compotes for afternoon snack. I make them and freeze them, or for convenience, I sometimes get store-bought organic fruit purees (the simpler ones, no broccoli blueberry for us ;-))

  4. Hi Helene,
    I love your blog and have been reading every inch of it the past couple of months as I have begun introducing my baby to solids. I am suddenly very intimidated by the more complex foods that you make now that me little one is getting older. There are so many ingredients that I've never cooked with before. Did you always know how to cook this well or how did you learn? I try to not look at cooking as a chore and include my baby girl in the process, but as I said I am intimidated by your recipes and am scared of how time consuming they may be. How do you keep your little one content and happy while you are cooking? I have been getting better and better about not buying processed foods and eating only "real food", but I am worried about the cost of all the fine ingredients in you recipes. How do you keep the cost down, or is that something you are fortunate enough to not worry about? I never by fresh herbs and spices- is it necessary?
    Thanks for any advise as I'm learning my way through becoming the cook / family nurture I wish to be. You are great inspiration!

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