Sable Breton Galette with Rosemary Poached Pears and Honey Caramel Diplomat Cream
I hold Christmas tightly. Too tightly perhaps. It’s not a holiday. It’s not religious. It’s not a time for vacation. I hold whatever it is tightly because after the lights come down, it’s grey until April. There’s nothing to look forward to. There’s no celebration to plan. There’s nothing for the mind to stir over. I get anxious when I’m lacking something to stir over.
I’m not sure I can spend too many more years in this city, though there’s a chance I’ll never leave. I started writing this in mid-December in my laundromat, where I learned, as snow fell steadily and the thermometer read 18 degrees, that there’s no heat (or perhaps it wasn’t working for just that day). I take breaks to quickly hide my hands between my thighs until they’re warmed by my body’s heat and can hold onto that electricity for a moment so that they’re strong enough to tap keys. I blast music through headphones to keep my toes tapping and my head nodding; otherwise, my toes would pop off, and my head would explode. It would be messy.
There’s no doubt that my frigidity in those moments was fueling those words of flight, but they’re sentiments that I’ve uttered over and over in these situations. Each year, icy thoughts and brumous dreams of the west coast get stronger and clearer, respectively. My bones feel like gossamer. A lusterless violet constantly shines through my hands’ thin sheath of skin.
That same day, much earlier, I walked through a major downtown shopping district (Downtown Crossing for those who know Boston). Ten shopping days until Christmas. Pre-snowstorm. It was freezing, but it was beautiful. And the stores, decked out in bows of plastic evergreen and gaudy Christmas balls, weren’t too crowded. And magically, people were still happy. I wanted to be absorbed by their warmth—to be inhaled and exhaled and experienced with those Bostonians.
Then maybe it’s not the cold itself that depresses me post-Christmas. It’s not the ice and the jackets and the blankets and the heating bill and the walk to work and the transit problems and the persistently Rudolph-red nose and the involuntary tears that fall and turn to stony ice on my cheeks when I see those without an adequate place to go shivering. It’s abstract: It’s a quiet; it’s a general loss of magic that makes me feel not very much unlike a child who has opened the last of the packages from under the tree.
Whatever it is, it’s probably the reason why I’ve never had a good New Year’s Eve or why the Summer Olympics always trump the Winter ones for me (though I do love them both). It’s the reason why my cyclical bouts of illness feel so much more severe at this time of year.
So instead of starting 2014 on this blog with a salad or a smoothie (though I’ll be eating and drinking plenty), I started it by making this elaborate tart. It’s a first attempt to keep this winter bright. It’s a special occasion dessert for no special occasion. It’s buttery and rich and features pears, caramel, and rosemary—flavors that we associate with winter. But it’s light (pears are poached in an intoxicating bath of sauvignon blanc and aromatics) and creamy (silky diplomat cream—pastry cream lightened with whipped cream—is flavored by a deeply cooked honey caramel) and cool (glazed, soft poached pear yields to a generous cloud of chilled cream). It’s a true sparkler. A pick-me-up from the ground. It’s refined and elegant but a comfort all the same.
I’ve set a few goals for this year (note: I did not say that I “made a few resolutions,” because I make those in the fall) to get me through this winter: to join some things, do some things, eat some things, see some things. I want to make life after Christmas and after New Year. With this galette, I think I got a good start.
The crust/base of the galette comes from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, and I have linked to the recipe below (the only things that I do differently are to add 1 full teaspoon of fleur de sel rather than the ½ teaspoon to the dough and to roll the dough almost all the way before fitting it into the pan). Dorie serves the galette topped with a thin slick of lemon curd and some berries though also recommends eating it plain or with a little whipped cream or ice cream, as is more similar to how typical galettes made of sable dough are eaten in France (in Brittany, specifically), where they are often just broken into pieces rather than cut into neat slices. They’re rustic. I think that flavorful base makes for the most delicious tarts, however, and I turn to the recipe often.
In my galette, topping and base are not quite as cohesive as in a more traditional tart. When you slice the galette, some of the cream is likely flop over the sides, and a pear slice may fall off. In fact, I found it more gratifying to eat the galette by picking it up rather than by taking bites of it off of a fork. I find this charming, but if you are looking for something more contained, you can make the same yield of pastry cream in step 3 and skip folding in the whipped cream. Made this way, the galette will slice much like a traditional tart. Either way is wonderful. Alternatively, you can serve sliced poached pears on the side of plain slices of the galette and top each serving with a generous dollop of the diplomat cream from a bowl. Each of these recipes (base, cream, pears*) is so wildly delicious and versatile that the dessert combinations are endless. Do what you like.
*photos are embedded
1 Recipe Sable Breton Galette
345 grams (1 1/2 cups) whole milk, room temperature
62 grams (about 5 tablespoons) granulated sugar
25 grams (a heaping tablespoon) honey
1 tablespoon water
4 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
21 grams (about 3 tablespoons) cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
85 grams (about 6 tablespoons) heavy cream
460 grams (2 cups) white wine (I used a crisp sauvignon blanc)
460 grams (2 cups) water
175 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
3-4 (about 5-inch-long) sprigs rosemary
3 (2-inch-long) strips of lemon zest
4 ripe but firm medium bosc pears
45 grams (about 1/4 cup) almonds, toasted and chopped
1. For the Diplomat Cream: Measure out 60 grams (about ¼ cup) of milk and set aside for egg yolk mixture. Place 50 grams (1/4 cup) sugar, honey, and water in small saucepan, taking care not to splash sides of saucepan. Gently stir over medium-high heat until sugar is mostly dissolved and mixture starts to sizzle. Stop stirring and cook mixture until deep amber in color (take the caramel to the brink of burnt so that it can hold its own through all of the dairy). Off heat, carefully stir in remaining milk. Caramel mixture is likely to harden. Stir caramel mixture over low heat until caramel fully dissolves into milk.
2. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, salt, and remaining sugar together in large bowl until smooth and light, about 30 seconds. Whisk cornstarch and reserved milk from step 1 together until no lumps of cornstarch remain. Whisk cornstarch-milk mixture into egg yolk mixture until fully combined.
3. Slowly add about 1/4 cup caramel mixture to egg mixture, whisking vigorously until incorporated. Slowly whisk in remaining caramel mixture. Transfer mixture to medium saucepan and cook, whisking constantly, over medium heat until it thickens and bubbles burst at surface. Whisk off heat for 30 seconds. Whisk in vanilla. Strain pastry cream through fine-mesh strainer set over bowl and whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time. Whisk pastry cream occasionally until it reaches room temperature. Press sheet of plastic wrap against surface and refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours, before proceeding. (Pastry cream can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before being used.)
4. For the Poached Pears: Cut a round of parchment paper to fit inside large saucepan and cut 1 1/2-inch hole in center of circle. Bring wine, water, sugar, rosemary, and lemon zest to boil over medium-high heat in large saucepan, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, peel, halve, and core pears (removing stem vein). Add pear halves to wine mixture, place parchment round on top, and reduce heat to medium-low to maintain gentle simmer. Poach pears until tender when pierced with knife or skewer, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer pears to bowl, pour poaching liquid (including rosemary and lemon zest) over pears, and let cool completely. (Pears and liquid can be refrigerated together in airtight container for up to 3 days before using.)
5. When ready to assemble galette, whip heavy cream to medium peaks. Whisk pastry cream to loosen. Gently fold whipped cream into pastry cream until pastry cream is lightened and the two mixtures are combined. Spread diplomat cream evenly over top of galette, avoiding fluted border.
6. Transfer pear poaching liquid (including rosemary and lemon zest) to small saucepan and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cook until mixture has thickened and reduced and becomes sticky and has the consistency of caramel sauce. While poaching liquid is reducing, slice 4 pear halves lengthwise into three pieces and space them evenly in circle around galette, letting diplomat cream show between each slice. Slice remaining pears into 1/4-inch-thick slices and cut off necks; use to fill in center.* (You may not need all 4 pears; I needed only 3 pears. If you have extra, eat with yogurt or ice cream.) Brush pears lightly with reduced poaching liquid. Sprinkle galette with almonds and serve immediately. (Although the galette will only maintain its original crispness for a little while after it is topped, I continued to enjoy the softened galette from the refrigerator for 2 more days.)
*But you can decorate the galette however you like.