Bringing Christmas in Paris to Brooklyn, Via Cake

For each galette des rois, Herelle-Lewis scatters pistachios over puff pastry, then gently tucks a porcelain charm into the cream filling.

In France the galette des rois, a caramel-colored, almond-cream-filled puff pastry eaten to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, is as much a part of the holiday as warm cider, good cheer and a Christmas tree.

A small charm, la fève, is hidden inside its custardy layers, a tradition that’s believed to date back to the Roman Empire’s winter solstice celebration.

Whoever obtains la fève in her or his slice of galette — known to English-speakers as the “kings’ cake,” it’s eaten throughout January in Paris — is crowned king for the day.

Now a Brooklyn-baked version is just a delivery away, thanks to Christine Herelle-Lewis and Noémie Videau-Zagar, Parisian expatriates who launched Pistache NYC — a pastry-based catering company named after their favorite nut, the pistachio — in the summer of 2012.

The cake, which Pistache NYC makes in December and January, is so beloved by the French (16th-century bakers battled with pastry shops over the right to make it; the latter won) that pâtissiers attempt to upstage each other with extraordinary variations. Avant-garde pastry chef Pierre Hermé once made a version with candied chestnuts and earthy muscovado sugar, while Hugo & Victor, as reported by Vogue Paris, incorporated kaffir lime.

Pistache’s interpretation, not surprisingly, includes pistachios, which are sprinkled onto layers of buttery puff-pastry dough. It melts in the mouth, like a decadent croissant with hints of those nuts and subtle notes of orange liquor: It is also laced with Grand Marnier for an unexpected “ooh la la,” says Herelle-Lewis, who once apprenticed in one of Hermé’s kitchens.

“The kings’ cake is Christine’s baby,” says Videau-Zagar of Herelle-Lewis, who made dozens of them for friends even before she enrolled in culinary school. Though both chefs attended Paris’s esteemed École Grégoire-Ferrandi, the two didn’t become friends till they married Americans and moved to Manhattan a month apart in 2011. They founded Pistache NYC out of a desire to share their heritage, eventually moving from baking canelés bordelais, choux à la crème or savory canapés at home to a commissary kitchen in Brooklyn’s Industry City.

There, Herelle-Lewis gently tucks a porcelain charm into the cream filling of each cake, then delicately imprints the top with a simple yet sophisticated design using the back of a knife. Once it’s baked, on goes a coating of simple syrup and a paper crown ordered from Paris, which is traditionally worn by the finder of la fève.

Herelle-Lewis and Videau-Zagar, who deliver their galette des roes in multiple sizes or with a traditional almond filling, recommend eating the cake alongside a cup of hot cider… and in the company of many family and friends, of course.

Photo credit: Emily Dryden

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