There are those meals with loved ones that are just perfect. The lighting feels right, a mix of the setting sun with the glow of warm candle; the temperature is balanced, somewhere between warmth and cool, suitable to all tastes; the music is soft and unobtrusive, likely the result of careful pre-planning; the food is a harmonious blend of tastes that build on and intensify each other. The company is good, a mix of old and new faces that share stories, thoughts, and laughter. You feel like you want to stay in that moment forever, spending all of your days talking to these people, discovering them, filling your mouth and mind with these flavours, scents, sounds. And when you lie in bed later that night, replaying all of the night’s events, you find yourself forcefully awake for hours, shaken by the endorphins and the adrenaline of the meal’s perfect melange.
And then, there are the everyday meals. The lighting is hardly pleasant, a mix of flourescent and LED bulbs meant to strengthen your kitchen’s puny natural light; the room is either too hot or too cold, in perfect opposition to the temperature outside; the food is pleasant but bland, and likely insufficient, as you’re finding yourself going back again and again to the one pleasant note of a simple tomato salad. The company is crabby, and people are talking over each other, cutting one another off in mid-sentence, a cacophony of discordant sounds and languages. You just want this meal to end, trying to fill your stomach as quickly as possible and get on with the rest of the day. The meal is not an end in and of itself, but an unwelcome interlude, forgettable at best and ruinous at worst.
Last week, as I travelled across the province of Quebec with my family and my partner, we have had our share of both types of meals. Not all days were pleasant, as we battled each other for attention, airtime, decision-making power. But many meals were spent enjoying each other’s company, languishing in the day’s warmth as we dined al-fresco, or the sun’s bright rays peeking in through the window. There were many blocks of cheese eaten, many glasses of wine and cider tipped back, many pears and sandwiches shared during afternoon breaks in the van, on top of beautiful cliffs overseeing the St. Lawrence river, on walks through the old port of Quebec City. There was a lot of joy, and a little bit of sorrow, as in all good trips. And there were several impromptu galettes.
This galette came about on one of our best days, the celebration of my grandmother Berta’s birthday. We spent it in a shaded valley in Forestville, a small town a couple of hours away from Tadoussac. It is in Tadoussac that the rest of the world goes to watch the whales frolic in Baie Ste. Catherine, where the Atlantic Ocean kisses the St. Lawrence River. But we did our whale watching that day in Les Escoumins, another small town an hour away, where at 3 p.m. on a beautiful Wednesday twenty eager tourists and Quebecois citizens touched shoulders in their attempt to glimpse the world’s biggest mammal, the blue whale, in its natural habitat. And see them we did, as two giant tails and fins frolicked in the water in front of us for a couple of hours.
Wind-swept and giddy with excitement, we went back home that afternoon, where we all came together to prepare one of the best meals of the entire trip, crowned with this dessert: a galette of wild blueberries and raspberries, picked that very morning by my parents and grandmother from the nearby forest. It really was a perfect meal, full of memorable moments, warmth, and even a few tears of joy. And I hope that if you make this galette, which comes together in under a couple of hours, baking time included, it will help brighten up your day as well.
- Makes two galettes
- 500 grams, or 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 4 ml salt
- 1 cup shortening, room temperature
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- For filling:
- 3-4 cups of berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, currants, and even cranberries are all welcome here (you may want to adjust seasonings based on your berries - strawberries love lime, while cranberries would welcome a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg)
- Fresh herbs and nuts, if available: a few sprigs of thyme for blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg for cranberries, black pepper and lime zest for strawberries, pistachios for raspberries (sprinkle on top)
- 1 Tb cornstarch
- ½ cup - 1 cup of brown sugar (the amount of sugar used will depend on the sweetness of your berries. Start with ½ a cup, taste the filling, and adjust as needed. Remember that the flavours will deepen and caramelize when the galette has cooked)
- juice and zest of ½ a lemon or a lime
- a pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon of balsamic or apple cider vinegar (optional, as needed)
- To make crust, combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut room-temperature shortening into flour with two knives until mixture is uniform and shortening resembles large peas. Do not overwork.
- Beat egg, water and vinegar together. Pour evenly over flour mixture. Stir with work until well combined and all of the mixture is moistened.
- Without overworking it too much, shape dough into a ball and lightly flatten into a circle of about 10 cm. Wrap and chill for 30 minutes (or longer, if making ahead).
- To make filling, clean all berries carefully. Pour berries into a large bowl, adding sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest, salt, and a teaspoon of balsamic or apple cider vinegar, taking care not to bruise the berries. Add fresh or dry herbs as possible, based on whatever berries you're using (see list and suggested pairings under ingredients). Mix everything gently with a wooden spoon, taste and correct flavours (adding sugar, or more lemon and vinegar if the taste is a bit monotonous).
- When crust has cooled and you're ready to bake, dust rolling pin and work surface lightly with flour. Roll dough to a uniform thickness of about ½ an inch with light, even strokes. If dough sticks, dust lightly with flour. Roll out a shape that is as close to a circle as you can, but don't fret - galettes are forgiving. If the dough is really sticky, rolling the dough on parchment paper and then transferring it on the parchment paper to a large baking sheet works well. If you don't have enough parchment paper, slide a spatula under the dough and loosen it, and then transfer it to a wide baking sheet covered with parchment paper (or even tin foil, if that's all you have) as intact as you can. Once again, don't fret too much - galettes are forgiving, and if pieces break off they can always be patched together.
- With a slotted spoon or a fork, pile filling onto the dough, leaving an inch of edges around. Fold the edges onto the filling, allowing some pieces to cover a part of others, and leaving the centre of the filling exposed. Add a gentle sprinkling of whatever herbs you used in the filling (if the filling is all raspberries, some crushed pistachios will work wonders). Brush the galette's edges with an egg. Bake in a 425F oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 20-30 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the filling is set. Do not overcook.
- Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. We had it as is, in room temperature, and it was wonderful.