At Table: On galettes and gratitude

Brigid Ransome Washington, left, serves a savory butternut squash and sage galette, and a sweet pear and cardamom galette to her friends from The Summit Church on Friday, August 4, 2017. Following the birth of her second child, a similar gathering of friends coaxed Washington back into the kitchen.

On Galettes and Gratitude

by Brigid Washington
photographs by Madeline Gray

Last year, when my husband Joseph and I welcomed our second child, I dreaded going back to the office. “The office” for me was our home kitchen. As the former editor of the Culinary Institute of America’s monthly magazine and a longtime food writer, work for me meant cooking. Just three weeks prior to our daughter’s birth, I had submitted the final pass to my Manhattan publisher for my first cookbook. When Noelle Grace arrived, not only was I exhausted, as you might expect, but I was also experiencing a mash-up of emotions. Angst and accomplishment topped the list. So for weeks, our new family of four survived off my visiting mother’s cooking, the generosity of a few friends who brought over meals, and a mortgage-payment’s-worth of prepared food from the Whole Foods hot bar.

When our small group of friends from The Summit Church hosted a potluck, the thought of attending seemed impossible to imagine. Then, bright glimpses of my former self began to shine through my postpartum cloud. I decided that I had to allow my once-heady love for community and the kitchen to overpower my growing reclusivity. Also, I needed to face my fear: that my nourishing relationship with food had begun to curdle. Back in the kitchen It was a potluck, so I had to contribute something. But the moment I RSVP-ed “yes” was also the moment I felt the weight of my own expectations.

I wanted to bring some impressive culinary musing: you know, something that “I just whipped up” because “everything is so great,” a dish dripping with the syrupy, fake sweetness of humble-brag. Thankfully, reality has a way of asserting itself, and my diminished state quickly dissolved any notion of creating a caramel-spun croquembouche.

Brigid Ransome Washington folds over dough to make the crust of a butternut squash and sage galette at her friends’ home in Raleigh on Friday, August 4, 2017. Following the birth of her second child, a gathering of friends from The Summit Church coaxed Washington back into the kitchen to bake a similar galette.

An honest inner dialogue ensued. Deciding on a dish that brims with ease and charm – as well as utility – forced me to thumb through my mental recipe index. And there, somewhere between a root vegetable pizza and a classic apple pie were the answers: a butternut squash and sage galette, and a pear, honey, and cardamom galette.

I didn’t set out to make galettes. Instead, I listened to the story my body was quietly trying to tell me, and the result was an ode to everything I wanted to share with friends. It was also what my postpartum body needed. Because I was nursing, I instinctively gravitated toward nutrient-dense foods that fed both me and my baby well. Butternut squash, with its high folate and magnesium content,was a clear choice. I also craved the warm comfort of baked fruit mingled with the novelty and glamour of a classic French pate brisee pastry.

In no time I was back in the saddle. My muscle memory, slightly atrophied from the lapse in service, regained confidence with each step. Dough formation, vegetable cookery, fruit assembly, and egg wash application were the simple processes that made me feel like me for the first time in months. A glass of crisp Cava didn’t hurt either. Moments later, an alien aroma enveloped our home and gave each of us pause – even the crying baby. It wasn’t just the homemade, baked goodness, it was something much more: It was the scent of gratitude. I realized that the reward of this experience was not the galettes. It was the ability to make them, and then to share them with many friends as I held a healthy baby girl on my hip, next to a toddler who is every bit of 3-year-old boy as he should be, all within the security of a strong marriage that had weathered a barrage of storms. For the previous two months, I had failed to recognize my own complicity in my humdrum listlessness; I had grumbled over trivialities instead of marveling at all of the triumphs.

Brigid Ransome Washington sprinkles flour on the counter to roll out dough for one savory butternut squash and sage galette, and another sweet pear and cardamom galette at her friends’ home in Raleigh on Friday, August 4, 2017. Following the birth of her second child, a gathering of friends from The Summit Church coaxed Washington back into the kitchen to bake a similar galette.

Realizing this, I felt embarrassed by my shortsightedness, at having been so blind to the blessings. The kitchen I had so recently shunned now seemed transformative. Making these dishes had ratified my position that the kitchen will always be a place of immense fulfillment; it had provided the means for me to rediscover the value of cooking for others. So, when I pulled those galettes out of the oven – the butternut squash speckled with sage and struggle, the pear dripping with honey and delight – I also extracted the knowledge that gratefulness to the Father, for this life, was the missing ingredient.

A savory butternut squash and sage galette. Following the birth of her second child, a gathering of friends from The Summit Church coaxed Brigid Ransom Washington back into the kitchen to bake a similar galette.

Butternut squash and sage galette
For the crust
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick butter, cold and cubed
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
½ cup iced cold water

For the filling
1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten

Make the crust dough: In a food processor, pulse the flour, cold butter, salt, and sage until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 20-30 seconds. Stream in the iced water, a quarter-cup at a time, until the mixture takes a globular shape, roughly one minute. For a delicate, flaky pastry do not to overwork the dough. Ready an ample-sized piece of plastic wrap, then turn dough onto the wrap, and gently form into a roughly five-inch disc. Chill for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Preheat oven to 350. Peel the butternut squash and divide the longer part from the round base which contains the seeds. Cut the longer part of the squash in half, down the middle, to make two half-moon logs. Following this, slice each half into half-inch pieces. (You will likely get 30 slices per half.) Place these slices on a sheet pan lined with either a Silpat or parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with coarse salt, pepper, and the remainder of the sage. Bake for 9 – 11 minutes.

Remove the sheet pan from the oven and allow it to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400. Ready another sheet pan with a double lining of parchment paper. Make the egg wash and set aside. Retrieve the dough from the refrigerator. On a generously floured work surface, roll the dough, starting from the middle and rolling outward. This should form a circle roughly 12 inches in diameter. Very carefully, transfer the dough to the parchment lined sheet pan. Arrange the baked butternut squash slices in whatever manner that preference dictates on the dough, leaving a one-inch border. Take caution to fully cover the dough with squash. Fold edges of dough over the squash, creating a pleat with the dough to enclose the galette. Brush the prepared egg wash onto the galette and bake for 30 – 35 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack for five minutes. Serve warm on its own, or with a simple side salad.

Serves 4 – 6

A sweet pear and cardamom galette. Following the birth of her second child, a gathering of friends from The Summit Church coaxed Brigid Ransom Washington back into the kitchen to bake a galette and return to her love of cooking.

Pear, honey, and cardamom galette
For the crust
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 stick butter, cold and cubed
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup iced cold water

For the filling
4 large D’Anjou pears, peeled, cored, cut into eighths
½ cup honey, divided
1 tablespoon cardamom, ground
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten Crème fraiche or chantilly cream, for serving

Make the crust dough: In a food processor, pulse the flour, cold butter, salt, and sugar until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 20 – 30 seconds. Stream in the iced water, a quarter-cup at a time, until the mixture takes a globular shape, for roughly one minute. For a delicate, flaky pastry do not to overwork the dough. Ready an ample-sized piece of plastic wrap, then turn dough onto the wrap, and gently form into a roughly five-inch disc. Chill for at least an hour.

Meanwhile make the filling: In a large bowl, toss the pears with half of the honey and the cardamom. Set aside. Preheat the oven temperature to 400. Ready a sheet pan with a double lining of parchment paper. Make the egg wash and set aside. Retrieve the dough from the refrigerator. On a generously floured work surface, roll the dough, starting from the middle and rolling outward. This should form a circle roughly 12 inches in diameter. Very carefully, transfer the dough to the parchment lined sheet pan. Drizzle the other half of the honey on the dough, leaving a one-inch border.

Arrange the pears slices over the honey on the dough (in whichever manner most visually appealing to you). Fold the edges of the dough over the pears, creating a pleat with the dough to enclose the galette. Brush the melted butter over the pears, then brush the dough with the prepared egg wash. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Allow the galette to cool on a wire rack for five minutes. Serve warm with crème fraiche, chantilly cream, or any other creamy accoutrement.

Serves 4-6