It’s a funny moment, this, with so much of the country huddled in blankets to stay warm, and those of us here in California grateful for the sun but cheering on the rain for the sake of our farmers and the crops and the thirsty ground. I have no idea what season I’m in, utterly disoriented by the whole thing. I haven’t become accustomed to not having snow for winter, I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that a farmers market could be bountiful in January and last year was rather dry as well, which means that I don’t really know what a Northern California winter is supposed to be like.
Though I never quite enjoy being disoriented, it’s actually somewhat refreshing to feel as though I am living independently of the season and of this particular moment in time. To give myself some sense of the moment I’m in, I’m marking holidays and celebrations both large and small, as is my custom in any weather, and having as many memorable moments as possible. If nothing else, I’ll be able to say that January was when we went to the Armstrong Redwoods with some of our dearest friends, when we rearranged the living room with the simple prompting of a new, bright red piece of furniture. February will be the month we get away, if only for one night; in March, visitors will happily begin appearing at our door. I’ve spent too much of the last couple years considering my time in increments of work, big events, surgery, struggles and the like; right now, I just want to live.
And meanwhile, I’m thinking about how very, very cold it is in Michigan this January and how easy it is to track time in that environment, when you’re trapped inside trying to stay safe and warm. Snow days and icicles and all are lovely, but only to a point. I recall one winter day three years ago when a huge snowstorm shut down the whole city of Grand Rapids. My office was closed and a foot of snow sat against my door, and I wasn’t all that happy—for perhaps the first time ever—about a snow day. I was living alone at the time and loving it … except for that day, when I was not in the mood to be alone but could do nothing about it. I wanted to go for a run, wanted to see my boyfriend-now-husband, wanted to feel warm again. Instead, I made muffins with orange zest and currants and tried very hard to be positive. I thought about springtime and sunshine, how they come, eventually, they always do. Later, Ben trudged through the snow to come see me. We walked around my neighborhood and admired the thick snow sparkling on the trees and the rooftops, and all was well. It’s a happy, warm memory now, the chill and frustration fading into the background. Which is, of course, a good analogy for other things. But I’ll let you fill that one in.
For all these moments—those of desperation, those of endless cold, those of celebrating small moments—dessert is necessary. (I’m sure I’ve said that before, but who minds that sort of repetition?) And so I bring you this fabulous galette, with walnuts and dates that make it perfect for all climates. It has orange zest, too, come to think of it, which perhaps is the magical ingredient to brighten any dark day. I hope it accomplishes that for you, wherever you might be, whatever the weather.
Date & Walnut Galette
Adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II
FOR THE DOUGH
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ice-cold water
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
FOR THE FILLING & ASSEMBLY
2 cups pitted Medjool, Barhi or other variety of soft dates
1 tablespoon + 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
Zest of 1/2 orange
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1 tablespoon honey
A pinch of salt
3 tablespoons sugar
To make the dough, combine in a mixing bowl the flours, sugar and salt. When the cold butter has softened just slightly, add it to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Press the pieces of butter with your thumb and forefinger one by one to flatten them.
When all of the pieces of butter are flattened, drizzle in half the water, mixing all the while with your fingers spread and curved slightly, raking the dry mix from the bottom to the top to evenly incorporate the water. Continue mixing until the dough starts coming together, breaking apart large clumps as you go. After the water is incorporated, if there is unincorporated flour, drizzle the rest of the water over, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough looks moist and ropy with very little dry flour. Give the dough a final rake to break apart any large clumps.
Divide the dough in half, roll each part gently into a rough ball and wrap each ball in plastic wrap. Compress each ball, and then flatten and smooth them into disks. Press in any outstanding dry areas or butter into the dough. Let the disks rest refrigerated for 1 hour or longer.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a 13- to 14-inch circle. Brush off any excess flour and transfer the dough circles onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Put the baking sheet in the refrigerator so that the dough can firm up while you prepare the filling, or for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
In a food processor, process the dates into a coarse paste. Put the paste into a medium mixing bowl with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and the walnuts, orange zest and juice, orange blossom water, honey and salt. Mix well.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Set one piece aside on another piece of parchment. Spread the date filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Brush the border with water and cover the galette with the other circle. Press the edges together, gently smoothing out any air pockets. Trim the edge evenly and crimp with a fork or pinch with your fingers. Cut a few decorative slits on the top to let steam escape during baking.
Brush the top of the galette generously with the remaining melted butter. Sprinkle evenly with the sugar. Bake the galette on a pizza stone on the floor of the oven or on a pan on the lowest rack, until well browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.