The artist Wayne Thiebaud is known for his portraits of cakes, but he has painted pies, too. My favorite is “Caged Pie,” 1962, a portrait of a single slice, trapped in a bakery case. It reminds me of pie’s complexity, that pie is art. Pie takes time. Even a single slice belongs in a museum.
A galette is like a pie, but easier. It is but one layer of dough, thickly rolled, crudely folded up on itself. If it leaks, toss it up to the rustic nature of the dessert. With the galette, one need not fuss over crimping, nor blind-baking, nor any or the other fine-tuned intricacies that make pie-baking — my first love — a fraught process. Once a galette cools, you can slice it and eat it with your hands, not unlike a piece of pizza.
Galette, this year, was a word that rolled around the mouth in that circular, fad-ish way of the culinarily popular. Better tasting than kale, it gave cake a run for its money. Turn your head and there it was again. The galette, stunning, rustic, bursting with fruit: Was everyone baking galettes, Thiebaud pies and cakes be damned?
Well, yes. We were. In normal summers, I bake so many pies that my knuckles are hued a permanent dusty white. But this summer chipped at me. Even my bones were tired. Still, the plums sagged after one too many days in the fridge; the blueberries wrinkled. These are some of the reasons I bake: when the fruit has turned soft, but is not rotten, I pull out my tools. Then there is the corporeal joy of turning but a few things into something else, a conversion that acts like magic.
A pie, of course, is a dish that requires sharing. It requires a crowd. But this year, we had no visitors, and so I made galettes instead: easy, thick-crusted, buttery galettes that my husband and I polished off in two days (ok, I confess this much: my husband, not much of a sweets eater, ate the lamb’s share, and I the lion’s). No blueberries molded in the fridge. We loved the galettes, we savored them, we appreciated their ease, and what they offered us, the decadence of dessert without really having to work for it, which was a luxury we needed in a moment when luxury felt increasingly rare.
Next year, I may return to baking pies, though I’m thankful for the break. A galette, it turns out, is an extremely precise baked good, while a pie can change with the weather. I needed a constant; I needed a lodestar. And while Thiebaud may not paint galettes behind glass, oozing from the sheer weight of their fruit, though he surely should have. This year’s necessity — that of eating and of being fed — far outweighed the dignity of pastry’s art.
I mention all of this, too, because, as the holidays approach, still rooted in this moment of perpetual uncertainty, pies may feel like an added labor, just one more thing to do in a year that has unloaded upon us just a little bit too much. What of the galette, then, perched upon a holiday table? I posit that it can provide a nicety not unlike a pie, a humble crescendo to a family meal, whether the table overflows with people, or, as is more likely in a year like this one, appears a bit more spare.
The brilliance of the dough recipe that I provide for you here is that you can make it in your food processor, with just four ingredients (one of which is water). You can make it ahead of time and freeze it, or 30 minutes before you make your galette. The key to this dough — and to any dough, really — is to make sure that it is cold and that it has rested, so that the gluten has time to relax. If you find, when rolling it, that the dough is retracting, take the dough and return it to the fridge for an additional 10 minutes to let it settle again.
Apples are my fruit of choice for this particular holiday recipe (along with an easy caramel sauce recipe), but you can use pears, too. In summer, blueberries work particularly well, owing to their high pectin content. Sour cherries, nectarines, blackberries, and plums are all useful stand-ins. I prefer minute tapioca as a thickener to the more traditional pie thickener corn starch, which tends — in my opinion — to get pasty if not cooked correctly (both pies and galettes are often done cooking before corn starch has a chance to fully set, and minute tapioca, pulsed in either a spice grinder or food processor, sets almost immediately).
Once you’ve mastered the basic principles, the galette is nothing but a blueprint for your creative impulses. It can be executed, start-to-finish, in under two hours, excluding cooling time. There is no need to perseverate over crimping or latticework or any of the decorative touches that make pie-baking an artisanal skill. A galette is essentially one thick slab of dough folded in on itself, the permutations of its innards nearly endless.
Still, don’t let rusticity fool you. Herein lies a dessert that brings to the table the heart and soul that we need, in a moment when words may fail us. A question mark lingers this year: Can families come together in a traditional way? Will we have the meals we’ve always had? Will our tables be as full as they were?
I can’t answer those questions, necessarily, but I can provide an antidote to just one heartache. If Thiebaud’s “Caged Pie” inspires longing in you, too, that’s because it is meant to. It is meant to recall some nostalgic moment, some long ago dream. But here is a temporary cure, wrapped in an edible package, your very own galette. Master it and the secret is yours to repeat, whenever you need a little magic of your own.
For the Dough
1 ¾ cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, extra for rolling
3/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
15 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold and cut into cubes
roughly 6 tablespoons of ice water
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour and salt to combine. Add butter and pulse until pea-sized pieces form. Drip in water with the motor running one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture just comes together. Remove the dough and wrap it in plastic and flatten it into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out.
For the Filling
3 large apples, sliced
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons minute tapioca, ground in a spice grinder or food processor
Combine ingredients in a large mixing bowl and cover. Place in the refrigerator and let sit while the dough rests. Stir regularly so that the juices cover the apples.
For the Caramel Sauce
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar with 1/4 cup cold water and stir to combine. Cook, without stirring, until the sugar has turned a deep amber hue, approximately 10 to 12 minutes.
In a separate saucepan, slowly warm the cream. When the caramel is ready, slowly whisk in the cream and continue simmering the mixture until it is smooth, another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, then whisk in the butter. Reserve until ready.
For the Assembly
1 egg, beaten and mixed with one teaspoon water
¼ cup raw sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
On a floured work surface, roll the dough into a 12-inch circle. Arrange the apples in the center of the dough, allowing for a 3-inch border all around. Fold the edges of the dough up over the apples, overlapping and pressing to seal. Drizzle about half of the caramel sauce over the filling (but not the crust). Brush the crust’s edges with the beaten egg and sprinkle the crust with raw sugar.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden-brown. After 10 minutes, transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool for an hour before slicing and serving. Serve with the remaining caramel sauce.