Monday, December 17, 2007

Food fit for a King, Queen and You

The la Galette des Rois (the cake of Kings) which since the Middle Ages, has traditionally been eaten by the French on Epiphany (the day the Three Wise Kings paid homage to Jesus). Here the traditional date has been changed to Twelfth Night, and the last feast of the festive season gets into full swing (if not, why not?). The cake always included a bean - which should be large enough to be noticed, and everyone must be aware it could be in their slice (health and safety!!), and one of those gold or silvered almonds would be perfect but any large bean would do as it is not expected to be eaten.
It is not a matter of just slicing up the Galette and serving to the first in the queue, the tradition goes much further than that where the youngest person in the room hides under the table and shouts out which guest takes the next slice. Whoever gets the bean becomes King or Queen for the night and given a golden (paper) crown. They must then choose their royal partner (Queen or King) by dropping the bean in their glass. Don't ever give up traditions as good as this. Why not make it a fancy dress party while you are at it.

Twelfth Night Cake: serves 8
5 oz (150g) butter. softened
5 oz (150g) caster sugar
5 oz (150g) ground almonds
3 eggs
1 x 500g pack puff pastry
1 gold/silver (or plain) sugared almond
Preferably using a wooden spoon, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy, Beat two of the eggs and beat them into the mixture, adding the ground almonds until the mixture is thick and creamy.
Divide the pastry into two, rolling out one piece on a lightly floured board to make a square roughly 10" (25cm) wide, then using a plate of the same diameter as a guide, cut out a circle, repeat with the other piece of pastry (save the trimmings to make cheese straws -see tip below).
Place one circle on a large baking sheet, spreading an even layer of the almond cream on the top, but leaving a half-inch (1.5cm) border. Push the bean into the mix, somewhere between the centre and the edge. Dampen the uncovered edge of the pastry and cover with the remaining circle of pastry, pressing the edges well together to seal in place.
Using a sharp knife, score the pastry with curved lines (like the spoke of a wheel - but if you prefer score where you wish to cut each slice - this way you could end up with more, but smaller, portions). Do not score through to the filling. Place in the fridge to chill for half an hour.
When ready to cook, beat the remaining egg and brush all over the top of the Galette, bake in the centre of the oven at 200C, 4ooF, gas 6 for 25-30 minutes until risen and golden. Leave on the baking sheet for five minutes (this helps to cook the underneath a bit longer) but the remove (or the base will go soggy) and cool on a cake airer before serving.
Tip: when saving discarded puff pastry, don't scrunch it together. Lay one piece (or more if small) upon another so that the layers stay intact. Then when rolled out, they should rise fairly evenly.

A few final tips on how to use up some of those festive nuts:
Grind up handfuls of unsalted nuts and use instead of ground almonds in cakes.
Chop unsalted mixed nuts and keep in a jar to add to muesli or cakes.
Toast in a little olive oil in a pan and stir in a little curry paste to make spiced nibbles.
Grind nuts in a processor with a little olive oil to make a peanut type butter.
Store unused nuts in the freezer to give a longer shelf life.