I start thinking about my birthday cake months in advance. Winter begins birthday season at our house—Miles’ is in January (supposed to be February, but in a way it’s kind of nice to spread out the celebrations a little), my mom’s and brother’s are in February, and Denny’s and mine are in March. There are more as the spring continues in the extended family. That’s a lot of cake in a short timeframe.
Making cakes is fun. I don’t generally make a cake for people outside the “little family,” or as Miles calls it, “Mommy-Daddy-Mi.” I’d be happy to if they asked or the opportunity arose, but it’s not part of our current set of traditions. I look forward to making and sharing my own birthday cake and don’t find it depressing at all. Sometimes people are shocked by this, and a while back, I mentioned making my own cake and bringing it to share with coworkers. Someone in my sphere found the idea horrifying, and she insisted that she would bring a cake for me.
It was one of those things where I had to act like I was really appreciative—and I was appreciative of the gesture, because it obviously came from a place of generosity and kindness—but the fact is, I was psyched to make the cake. And I couldn’t exactly say no, you know? She asked me what my favorite kinds of cake were, and I told her, and then she brought something totally different. It was fine. I’m not picky at all, and I will eat just about any cake, but it was all kind of a let-down.
This year, I will not be thwarted. I saw this recipe today, and while it’s not a cake technically speaking, I think it will be my special birthday treat. Besides, after a cake for Miles (vanilla with orange cream filling and chocolate frosting) and Denny (carrot with cream cheese frosting), I might be ready for something else.
– 500 grams (17 2/3 ounces) all-butter puff pastry, thawed if frozen
For the crème d’amande:
– 125 grams (9 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
– 125 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar (I used a blond unrefined cane sugar)
– 110 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) almond meal (= finely ground almonds*)
– 20 grams (2 tablespoons) hazelnut flour or finely ground hazelnuts** (optional; you can also use all almond meal as in the classic galette)
– 8 grams (1 tablespoon) corn starch (in France, this is known under the brand name Maïzena)
– a good pinch sea salt
– 2 eggs
– 1 drop almond extract (optional)
– 1 tablespoon orange flower water or a liquor of your choice, such as Grand Marnier or rum
For the eggwash and glaze:
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
– 1 porcelain trinket or dried bean
– 2 paper crowns
Serves 6 to 8.
1. Prepare the crème d’amande.
Beat the butter until creamy, but avoid incorporating air into it. In a bowl, combine the sugar, almonds, hazelnuts, corn starch, and salt. Stir with a whisk to remove any lump. Add to the creamed butter and mix until smooth. Add the almond extract and orange flower water, then the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or overnight.
2. Roll out the puff pastry.
Divide the puff pastry in 2 equal pieces, and roll each one out to form a rough circle a little larger than 30 cm (12 inches) in diameter. Use a sharp knife and an upturned plate of the right dimension to cut a neat 30-cm (12-inch) circle out of one, and a slightly larger one with the other, adding, say, 6 mm (1/4 inch) all around the edge of the plate.
3. Assemble the galette.
Place the smaller of the two circles on a piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk with a tablespoon water (or milk, if you have it handy) until smooth. Using a pastry brush, brush the outer rim of the dough lightly with the eggwash by a width of about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Make sure not to wet the actual edge of the dough, or it will impede its rise.
Pour the crème d’amande in the center and spread it out inside the eggwash ring with a spatula.
Place a porcelain fève, a dried bean, or the trinket of your choice in the crème d’amande — not in the center but closer to an edge, or your knife will keep running into it when you divide the galette. And if it is an elongated shape, make sure to orient it straight toward the center of the galette, again, to minimize the possibility of you hitting it with your knife (as you see in the picture below, mine was not, and sure enough, I cut right into the top of the little tower). Press it down gently to bury it.
Transfer the second round of dough precisely on top of the first, smooth it out gently over the crème d’amande to remove any air pocket, and press it down all around the sides to seal.
4. Score the galette.
Using the back of the tip of your knife (i.e. the dull side), draw a decorative pattern on top of the galette: a diamond-shaped grid, optionally with double or triple lines, a flower pattern… see examples here, here, here and here.
I chose to make a sun pattern as demonstrated in this video: you start from the center and draw an arc to reach the edge of the galette in a single, smooth gesture, exercising just enough pressure to score the dough without piercing it. You then turn the galette ever so slightly, draw a similar arc nested in the first one, and repeat until the entire galette is scored.
Holding your knife upright, blade down, and using the dull side of the blade, push the dough inward where each sun ray ends, to create a festooned pattern.
Brush the top of the galette lightly with the eggwash: again, make sure it doesn’t drip over the edges, or the eggwash will seal the layers of the puff pastry in this spot and it won’t develop as well. Let it rest a minute then brush it lightly again with the eggwash. (As you can see on the picture below, my eggwash pooled a bit around the bulge of the crème d’amande, which resulted in a darker coloring around the sides; I didn’t mind, but I’ll be more careful next time.)
Using the tip of your knife, pierce 5 holes in the top dough — one in the center, and four around the sides, piercing through the pattern you’ve drawn — to ensure an even rise.
Transfer to a baking sheet or a tart pan with a removable bottom, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. (Alternatively, you can place the galette in the freezer at this point, on the baking sheet or pan, and bake it the next day. Although I haven’t tried it, I’m sure you could prepare it up to a week or so in advance: once the galette is thoroughly frozen, transfer it to a tightly sealed bag to avoid freezer burn.)
5. Bake the galette.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F); if the galette was in the freezer, take it out while the oven preheats. Insert the galette in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes (35 if it was frozen), until puffy and golden brown.
In the final minutes of baking, combine the tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar with a tablespoon very hot water (heated until boiling in the kettle or the microwave). When the galette is done, remove it from the oven, brush it across the top with the sryup, and return it to the oven for a minute; this will give it a shiny finish.
Place on a rack to cool completely (it will settle as it cools) and serve at room temperature. (Some people prefer it slightly warm, so they reheat it slightly in a warm oven before serving.) The traditional pairing is with Champagne or hard cider.
Have one of the guests (usually the youngest) hide under the table if he’s willing, or at least cover his eyes or turn his back to the table. Cut the galette into servings and, for each serving, have the guest decide who should have it. If your guests are unfamiliar with the tradition, make sure you warn everyone that a fève may be hiding in their slice. Whoever finds it is king/queen for the day, receives a paper crown, and gets to pick his/her queen/king (or king/queen for that matter) by giving her/him the second paper crown.
* I normally mention that you can also grind your own almonds, but here it is worth seeking out almond meal (you’ll find it at natural food stores and Middle-Eastern markets): it is a lot more finely ground than what you could achieve at home, and this will make the crème d’amande incomparably smooth.
** Read more about the hazelnut flour I used. Alternatively, you can grind the hazelnuts yourself if you prefer: place 20 grams (3 tablespoons) shelled hazelnuts in a blender with 2 tablespoons of the sugar used in the crème d’amande, and pulse until finely ground.