Sunday, September 14, 2008

Love Dish: Fig Galette with Blue Cheese, Caramelized Onions and Pancetta

I'm the first to admit, baking has always been a bit of a challenge for me. It's all that pesky measuring and exactness that I have a hard time with. However, within that intimidating realm of breads and cakes and pastries (oh my), the humble galette is one of the easiest, and luckily for me, also one of the best recipes you'll find. Small wonder it's one of my go-to dishes.

A galette is a flat, open-faced, free-form pastry. I first discovered this deceptively simple confection as I timidly paged through Baking with Julia, an excellent book on the subject that my father-the-baker bequeathed to me (a book which, I should mention, has done much to dispel my baking apprehension). I was immediately encouraged by the dough's simplicity and versatility - only a few ingredients are needed, and it works equally well for sweet or savory fillings. And, as Julia says, "The cornmeal in this wonderfully buttery dough not only gives it a bit of crunch, it makes it crisp enough to stand up to soft and syrupy fillings and sturdy enough to be rolled to extreme thinness." Translation: it's hard to screw up.

I started out by making both the tomato/cheese and the berry galette recipes in the book, and have since branched out to whatever I have on hand, particularly when there's a surplus of fruit sitting on my counter. (Speaking of which, The Houndstooth Gourmet has a great peach and raspberry galette recipe you should check out). My most recent version actually mixes sweet and savory, showcasing beautiful figs I found at the market with a sprinkling of blue cheese and a bed of sweet caramelized onions and smoky pancetta (see photos).

So as you can see, the possibilities are pretty darn endless. Try it out for yourself, and let me know what delicious combinations you come up with.

Galette Dough (from Baking with Julia):

Makes enough for 2 8-inch galettes

3 tbsp sour cream (or yogurt or buttermilk)
1/3 cup (approximately) ice water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
7 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 to 8 pieces

To make the dough by hand, stir the sour cream and 1/3 cup ice water together in a small bowl and set aside. Put the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in a large bowl and stir with a fork to mix. Drop the butter pieces into the bowl, tossing them once or twice just to coat them with flour. With a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour, aiming for pieces of butter that range in size from bread crumbs to small peas. The smaller pieces with make the dough tender, the larger ones with make it flaky.

Sprinkle the cold sour cream mixtuer over the dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork to evenly distribute it. (Note: I've never needed to add more than half the liquid before the dough comes together). The dough should be moist enough to stick together when pressed; if it's not add additional cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time. With your hands, gather the curds of dough together. You'll have a soft, malleable dough, the kind you might want to overwork.

Chill the dough: Turn the dough out of the bowl and divide it in half. Press each piece of dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

To make the galette:
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll it into an 11-inch circle that's about 1/8 inch thick. Since the dough is soft, you'll need to lift it now and then and toss some more flour under it and over the top. Roll up the dough around your rolling pin and transfer it to the prepared baking sheet.

Spread your desired filling over the dough, leaving a 2- to 3-inch border. Fold the uncovered border of dough up over the filling, allowing the dough to pleat as you lift it up and work your way around the galette. Dip a pastry brush in water and give the edge of the crust a light coating. You can sprinkle the dough with salt or sugar, depending on the filling.

Bake the galette for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and crisp. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the galette rest on the sheet for 10 minutes. Slip a wide spatula under the galette and slide it onto the cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, cutting the tart with a pizza wheel or a sharp knife.

(The galette is best if eaten the day it's made).

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