The magic of Christmas for French children doesn’t end on the 26th, nor does it wane in the wee hours of the 31st. Forles petits, mes amis, the holidays are bookended all the way to January 6th, when family, friends, paper crowns and one super-flaky tart gather around the table for the final holiday hoorah.
|1/2 tsp||Vanilla extract, or seeds from 1/4 of a bean|
|1/2 cup||Whole milk|
|4 ounces||Unsalted butter|
|1/2 cup||Powdered sugar|
|1 cup||Almond flour or almond meal|
|1/2 tsp||Kosher salt|
|1 tsp||Almond extract|
|All||your pastry cream|
|2 large, equally sized pieces||Puff pastry, preferably with butter (homemade or from Dufour)|
|1 batch||Almond cream|
|1||Egg, beaten, for egg wash|
|1||Whole almond *optional|
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar. Add in vanilla and corn starch. Whisk for another minute until smooth.
- Bring whole milk to a simmer. While you are whisking the yolks, slowly add all of the milk to the egg mixture. Place your whisk back in the pot and over low heat, pour the egg mixture into the pot as you continue to whisk. As soon as your custard begins to thicken, pull it off the heat and whisk until it looks evenly pudding-like. Chill to set.
- Place all ingredients except for the pastry cream in a food processor or blender and turn on high speed until creamy and smooth. Stir in the pastry cream.
- Preheat your oven to 400F.
- You can make this tart in any size or shape, so take out your puff pastry, (if it was frozen, wait a touch after taking it out of the freezer so it does not crack as you unfold it) and assess whether you want this a traditional round shape, a rectangle or a square. Place one of your pieces of puff pastry, about 8″ round or square, on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Spoon the almond cream in a mound over the center of the puff pastry, leaving at least 2″ of space uncovered. Take a little bit of your egg wash and with your finger, lightly brush a touch over the outside edges of this bottom piece of puff pastry dough. If you are baking this for the Epiphany, take a whole almond and hid it somewhere in the almond cream.
- Carefully place the second piece of puff pastry over the almond cream. Cup your hands over the top piece and around the almond cream to create a hat-shaped dome. You should now have about a 2″ brim around the dome of almond cream. Trim the edges with scissors or a razor blade so they are clean and sharp. Freeze the tart for about 30 minutes, or up to one week.
- It’s time to make those edges sharp and pretty! Take a small cookie cutter, pizza cutter or razor blade and create a pattern around the edges of the tart. Brush the top with a thin coat of egg wash. Using a paring knife, draw a pattern all over the tart.
- Bake at 400F for ten minutes, then lower the heat to 375F until evenly golden all around.
La Fete des Rois, the Epiphany or the Three Kings day takes place nearly two weeks after the birth of Jesus when the three kings arrived in Bethlehem, and, naturally, it is celebrated with pie (or, if you’re from New Orleans, a brioche crown, but more on that tradition later). The youngest child in the household assumes their place under the table and announces who above them receives which slice (usually with the help of a scheming sibling or two who have some experience). The guest whose slice holds the baby Jesus, often in the form of an almond, buried in their frangipane is crowned King or Queen for the day (and bragging rights for the year).