Whenever I think of pastry being miraculous, the one dessert that always comes to mind is Gateaux Pithivier (pronounced pee-tee-vee-ay). While I was attending classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, this special pastry was part of the curriculum.
I had never heard of it and I didn’t even understand the profound impact it would have on deepening my love of making pastries. That might sound like I’m going a bit overboard, but during the process of preparing it I was simply going through the motions of rolling the puff pastry, cutting my circles of dough for the top and bottom, putting the dollop of frangipane in the center, creating some leaves out of the dough, and marking it with the traditional scored lines. I had no idea how impressive this simple-yet-complicated-looking pastry would turn out.
I put it in the oven and thought it was going to make such a cute looking hat because that’s what the precooked pastry looked like to me. Boy was I wrong. I was off to tackle my next task when I had passed the oven and I stopped dead in my tracks—the magic of puff pastry had revealed a beautifully browned and evened circled and there was a stunning Gateaux Pithivier. Call me weird but I had goosebumps—the transformation of the pastry before all that buttery goodness steamed up and puffed this beautiful disc of flaky dough was just incredible. Science, I mean baking, had never been so fun and delicious.
My Gateaux Pithivier made the cover of my school portfolio. To me, it embodies every belief I had about how crazy I think it is that baking has a reputation for being so complicated when in reality it was so simple to create this masterpiece. It’s the first dessert that I think of when I want to prove how anyone can bake.
Originating in Pithiviers, France this treat takes center stage on January 6 and called "galette du roi" or Kings' Cake to celebrate when the three kings finally got to visit Jesus in his manger. As the centerpiece of a special celebration, a small china figurine (be sure to forewarn your guests) is hidden in the cake and whoever finds it is declared King for the day and wears a paper crown. While I love tradition, Gateaux Pithivier is such a showstopper that it should be served year round. It’s the perfect vessel for sweet or savory fillings and sure to impress anyone.