Seasons are absence.

When we sip our mugs of chocolat chaud, we dream of lemonade on sun-bathed porch swings. When we breathe in warm earth and ripe tomatoes, our stomachs grumble for winter squash. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. But I think it is only temporary absence, a leave-taking with the promise of return, which keeps our hearts and hopes tuned in to what is missing. It is both knowing that we cannot always enjoy it, and that we will see it again someday, that lets us take such deep and fragile pleasure in spring greens and Thanksgiving turkey and the company of far away friends.

We celebrate these seasons, these comings and goings of each year and of each life, with different traditions, and I was lucky enough to witness several of these in France. Among my favorites – because really, how can you pick only one? – was the Galette des Rois. I grew up celebrating Three King’s Day with a Rosca de Reyes and Ibarra hot chocolate, and was delighted to encounter this French twist on the same holiday. January 6th kick starts the season of Galette des Rois, huge circles of puff pastry rising a mile high and enveloping a sweet almond filling with a hidden fève. These burnished pastries are shared among friends or coworkers, and the person who finds the little figurine in his piece is crowned king for the day. The “king” must then use his princely status to provide a galette for the next week, and so on, the buying and eating and sharing and laughing and eating continues for the month of January.

The crowns that came with the Galette des Rois

It was only fitting, then, that I make two Galette des Rois (also known as Pithiviers) for The Spanish Table’s Three Kings Party. I prepared one dough from scratch and made another one using Dufour’s frozen Puff Pastry. Dufour uses only butter in their puff pastry, and that made a huge difference both in taste and texture. It was bigger and better than any frozen puff pastry I had ever used, and indistinguishable from the homemade one that took hours of labor.

The Galette des Rois were ravaged at the party, despite their humble arrival in a pizza box. But I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the filling, especially since some of it leaked out during baking. There was also a certain amount of grumbling by friends about filling the kitchen with delectable scents only to whisk the final product away from under their noses. So I went back to the mixing bowl.

This time I used almond meal instead of grinding my own almonds, and tested a different brand of puff pastry found at an upscale supermarket against the Dufour brand. Once again, Dufour kicked ass and the other galette was left looking a little like the kid who forgot it was picture day at school. The almond meal was finer than what a home grinder can produce, and gave the filling the perfect consistency. By mixing the almond meal with sliced almonds that I toasted and ground, the filling was firm but with a heady almond fragrance that complemented the rum.

Enjoy this airy and decadent dessert. The days are getting longer and I’ll be knee-deep in blueberries and cream before you know it, wondering what happened to my winter stews and New Year’s resolutions, loving every bit of today even as we yearn, you and I, towards tomorrow.

Galette des Rois
Adapted from Le meilleure de la France

2 sheets Dufour Puff Pastry, thawed (see note at end)
one stick butter, at room temp
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp lemon or orange zest
3 tbsp rum
7 ounces almond meal/flour
2 ounces sliced almonds, toasted and finely ground
1 tbsp flour
another egg, lightly beatened
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Beat the butter, adding the sugar slowly and beating until light and fluffy. Add in the egg, then the zest and the rum. Mix in the almonds and the flour, making sure the batter is mixed thoroughly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the thawed puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Roll it out so it makes a 12 ½ inch square. Cut out a circle and transfer to a baking stone or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Don’t try to roll the square into a circle, as the dough will try to shrink back into a square shape and not rise as much while baking. Roll out second pastry sheet in the same way.

Spread the almond mixture, which should be stiff, on the dough in the pan to ¾ inch thickness, stopping and inch away from the edge of the circle. Brush this exposed inch with the beaten egg. Place the second round of dough on top and press around the edges to seal. Brush the top of the galette with the rest of the egg. With a knife, trace curves starting from the center of the pastry to the edges, creating a spiral pattern.

Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes. The pastry should rise and be golden. Let cool, overnight if possible, dust with powdered sugar and partagez !

Note: If you prefer a slight thinner pastry with a higher ratio of filling to crust, you can use only one sheet of puff pastry. Roll out the dough to cut out two 9-10 inch circles, and use about 2/3 of the filling.

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