There have been times in my life when tasting something new can be an epiphany, a moment of sudden and great revelation. At this time of year, I love coming across recipes from historical baking traditions and different cultures. Seasonal celebrations in Georgian times featured a rich fruit cake, not unlike our Christmas cakes, which was eaten on the feast of the Epiphany on 6 January.
Other countries have special cakes on this date. In Spain and Mexico, there is the glorious Roscon de Reyes, an enriched bread-type cake with glace fruits, and not forgetting Portugal with its splendid Bolo Rei and Poland with the superb Trzech Kroil. All share the same decorations: a crown on top and a dried bean, or more frequently nowadays, a tiny gift (such as a ceramic bean), wrapped in baking paper and baked inside the cake. Whoever is served the slice with the bean becomes King or Queen for the day and wears the crown.
The magnificent Galette des Rois in France and Belgium, an almond cake made with puff pastry and ground almonds, has a feve (ceramic) bean baked inside. It reminds me of the time I lived and worked in France over 40 years ago in St Quentin. On 6 January, we had a reception at 9am to celebrate Le Jour des Rois (the Day of the Kings) and I tasted this famous Galette des Rois, served up with a glass of champagne.
But my baking Epiphany was later that same day, when my landlady’s friend, Madame Blanchard, brought round an apple Galette aux pommes. It was her own version, handed down in her family from Normandy. For me, it’s enveloped with the fondest memories of one of the best apple tartes I’ve ever tasted. Here’s her recipe:
150g plain flour
25g ground almonds
1 tsp sugar
100g butter (cut into small pieces)
4 tbsps water
25g unsalted butter melted
100g caster sugar
50g caster sugar
1-2 tbsp Calvados
Mix the flour, ground almonds and sugar in a bowl with the butter. Add the water and bring together in a dough. Wrap the dough and let it rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Remove from the fridge and let it soften a little while making the filling.
Peel, core and slice the apples. Roll the pastry out into a large circle to fit a 28cms baking tin or flan dish. Place the pastry in the tin/dish. Arrange the apples so that they overlap. Place in the fridge for 10 to 15 minutes. Heat the oven to 200C/Mark 6/400F.
Remove the Galette from the fridge and brush the pastry edge with the melted butter. Sprinkle the apples with the caster sugar and Calvados. Place the Galette in the oven and bake for 45 to 60 minutes until golden. Serve hot or cold with cream or ice cream.
Once the wrapping is recycled, the decorations taken down, and the Christmas lights switched off, throw off the gloom of January with a slice of Madame’s Galette aux pommes.
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and keep baking!
Read more about Grandma Abson’s life, her passion for baking and recipes on www.grandmaabson.com and head over to Instagram @potsaway to check out how Meryl and Patrick are cooking together again.