It must've been around 5 pm when we arrived. Nicole's house was located on the edge of the Fôret d'Ermenonville, in one of those tiny little French villages that consists of little more than a dozen grey-walled houses lined along a single street, and the last few kilometers, even after a full day of cycling, had been pure bliss. I'd needed a little respite from the hills and the wheat fields and the blistering sun, and the forest had offered just that. A fragrant, green canopy to harbor me ... Yes, I've always felt most at ease in the woods.
Nicole greeted us with that natural but inviting laissez-faire attitude that only old people seem to have and the promise of cold beer. There was something familiar about her, but I couldn't quite place it. As we walked up the stairs to her doorway, the first thing I noticed was a cardboard box filled with overripe, jammy apricots. Then, the musty smell of an old home lined with carpets and filled with too many trinkets. Then, more apricots. On the table, in a large bowl in the living room and on the stove in the kitchen, apricots everywhere. There must've been hundreds of them, and it made me smile. I love apricots. I'd missed apricots.
We sat down at the table to drink our beer and started talking. It was the first proper conversation in French I'd had in a long, long time - the first to go beyond commonplaces and pleasantries, that is - and part of me wondered how on earth to keep up a conversation in a language I'd so long neglected (I'm not even good at small talk in my native language), but of course Thomas was there and Nicole had a few things up her sleeve as well. We ended up talking about our bike trip and the many cyclists she'd housed throughout the years, about Donald Trump's dinner at the Eiffel Tower and about the importance of small local businesses, seasonality, and her chickens. We ended up talking for a few hours, all in all, and all the while it was there. That sense of familiarity.
It were her hands, I realized later. Throughout our entire conversation, Nicole had glided her fingers along the edge of a glass plate in the center of the table, caressing it almost. A few times, she'd picked it up, just to put it down again. From the very start, it'd drawn my attention to her hands. To the signs of arthritis on her fingers, wrinkled and slightly crooked, and to the way she held things. Yet, it was only when I went to bed that night that I recognized what it was. The way she held things. It reminded me of my aunts. Of my grandmother, even.
• I'd never used or even heard of orange thyme until a few weeks ago, but it turned out to be the perfect addition to this galette. I found orange thyme to be more subtle and slightly sweeter than regular thyme or lemon thyme, which means that it won't overpower the flavor of the apricots. If you can't find orange thyme or are a big fan of the other varieties, though, you can still use those, although I'd probably use a little less.
• The recipe for the crust makes enough for two galettes. Tightly wrap one half in plastic wrap and freeze for up to three months. (Allow to defrost in the refrigerator before using.)
apricot & orange thyme galette w/ rye crust
crust adapted from Yossy Arefi's Sweeter Off The Vine
makes one galette
for the rye crust (makes enough for 2 galettes)
170 g all-purpose flour
170 g rye flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp granulated sugar
255 g unsalted butter, cubed and frozen
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
120 ml ice water
for the filling
750 g apricots, stone removed and cut into 1 cm wedges
100 g granulated sugar
2 tbsp mild honey
2 tsp fresh orange thyme
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 egg, for egg wash
cane sugar, to finish
for the rye crust
1. In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, salt and sugar. Add cubed, frozen butter and toss so as to coat each butter cube in flour. With your fingers, a pastry cutter or in a food processor, cut butter into the flour. You want to create flat, thin sheets of butter ranging from the size of oat flakes to the size of peas.
2. In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine ice water and vinegar. Sprinkle about 6 tbsp of the liquid onto the butter-flour mixture and gently toss with your fingers or a fork to distribute the water. Keep adding the ice water 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together. You have added enough water when you can pick up a handful of the dough and squeeze it together without it falling apart.
3. Dump dough out onto a clean work surface and divide into 2 equal parts. Press each half into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. You will need only one half of the dough for this recipe, so feel free to freeze to second one.
4. When ready to make the galette, remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a circle of about 30 cm in diameter and 5 mm in thickness. After every few strokes, lift up the dough and rotate. This will ensure you roll it in every direction and that it doesn’t stick to your work surface. Dust with a little extra flour when necessary.
5. Drape dough over your rolling pin and gently lift it from the work surface onto a piece of parchment paper. Transfer to the refrigerator and let chill while you prepare the filling.
for the filling
1. In a large bowl, combine apricots, sugar, honey, thyme, salt and cornstarch. Carefully toss everything together.
2. Remove crust and parchment paper from the refrigerator and pile the fruit on top, leaving a 4 cm border all around. Fold the edges over the fruit and press to seal, then refrigerate the galette for 15 to 30 minutes, until the dough is firm.
3. While the galette chills, preheat oven to 190˚C and place a baking sheet in the lower half.
4. When the galette is cold and firm, remove from the refrigerator, brush the edges with egg wash and sprinkle with cane sugar. Carefully slide galette and parchment paper onto the preheated baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden and the fruit is juicy and bubbling, 40 to 60 minutes. Let cool slightly and sprinkle with a little extra orange thyme before serving.