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Pithiviers - a first recipe

"The top is rounded and higher than the edges, and slashed, typically in a starburst pattern. It is meant to look like the sun."

Dana's Baking Adventures

I fear I have not been very inspiring this week - a number of the slightly out of the ordinary events that happen in my life have prevented me getting to the blog with a lot of time in hand, and so I have looked for quick fixes. And alas they don't always turn out to be quick fixes because once you start looking at anything then any number of things pop into the mix.

Take this first recipe - Chicken Pithiviers pie from one of delicious' little giveaway books. This one, as you can see is from way back in 2008 and is called Cafe Food. It features recipes from various cafés around Australia. My first recipe is not even technically the first recipe - that's the cover dish Banana, buttermilk pancakes with palm-sugar butter. They look very nice, but honestly I just wasn't in the mood for pancakes. So I turned to the next one which is from a restaurant called Ate in Bungalow, NSW. Is that part of Sydney? Anyway I suspect it no longer exists - well 2008 is 13 years ago so you'd hardly expect it to anyway. I certainly couldn't find a website, just some probably out-of-date listings.

The next recipe, however, follows on quite neatly from the last two on cultural appropriation. for here you have a recipe which has its origins in two very closely related French pastries - the Pithiviers and the Galette des Rois. The opinions of how these two differ by those who are into authenticity are summarised here:

“There is a major difference between a Galette des rois and a Pithiviers: the difference is in the filling. In a Galette des rois, it’s frangipane, a type of custard made of butter, eggs, sugar and almond flour. In a Pithiviers, it’s an almond cream, the same preparation used in pear tarts “Bourdaloue”. They are both ancient, dating back to the 17th century, when puff pastry was discovered, although the Pithiviers predates the Galette des rois. So, they are close, but not the same.” Bruno Millerioux via Joe Pastry and Kitchen Inspirational

I also found an even pickier squabble over whether you made the decorative cuts in the pastry before you put the egg wash on or afterwards. I'm guessing there are also squabbles about the pattern you cut into the pastry. So obviously there is a lot of dispute which would probably lead to those classicists decrying the Chicken Pithiviers pie shown above. I mean the pastry is just on top not top and bottom, and the filling is chicken for heaven's sake! Really all that there is that has anything to do with Pithiviers is the decoration on the pastry topping.

Pithiviers is a small town in the Loiret - the département where I used to spend my summer holidays as a teenager, although I was rather nearer to the Loire and Orléans than Pithiviers. I have a feeling that the Pithiviers pastries are generally smaller than the large Galette des Rois, but I could be wrong about this.

The Galette des Rois actually has its origins back in the 14th century when they made a cake for Twelfth Night - or the Epiphany. The cake would have a fava bean hidden inside - later a ceramic figurine. A child would slice the cake and hand out the slices. The person who received the slice with the bean would be king for the day, which in some periods led to the creation of courtiers and ministers, and much frivolity and carousing. In the seventeenth century when puff pastry was invented, the pastry casing changed to the puff pastry which is traditional today. And I do fear I have written about this before. That slicing of the cake by a child sounds familiar. And the crown on the top of the cake.

delicious has a recipe for a Classic almond Pithiviers and I also found a slightly modified Quince jam and almond pithivier by Merlin Labron Johnson both of which which looked rather nice and pretty traditional too.

But of course, these being the times we live in, chefs today all over the world, including France, have made Pithiviers with just about anything - duck - of course - is popular in France. If you want to entertain yourself with a slightly obnoxious and full of himself chef (Bruno Albouze) making this extraordinarily fancy Duck Pithivier then watch the video below. It's a bit of a laugh really. I guess it epitomises how a relatively simple but classic dish has morphed over the centuries into something quite different and very haute cuisine. But it does look very impressive. And perhaps in a way it also epitomises French haute cuisine so I doubt that anyone would criticise it for being inauthentic.

But if you want to try something much, much simpler but just as fancy looking, and just as far away from the origins of a Pithivier then you could do worse than try this - a very modern and café style dish - Camembert, cranberry and walnut pithiviers by Michael Chakraverty.

It should give you some more ideas of how to make things with puff pastry though. As I said, there are heaps of recipes out there from just about everyone - even The Hairy Bikers who wouldn't be the first people I would think of if I was thinking of Pithiviers.

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