May 10, 2010

Gâteau Breton

As good and as satisfying as the Saint-Honore trifle was, this Gâteau Breton is almost as amazing in a totally different way, and it shows just how much Rose deserved the Cookbook of the Year award. There is such amazing variety in the book--if you don't like the cake we bake one week, stick around--you're sure to like one that's coming up. From a trifle to a gateau to lemon cheesecakes--it's got it all, including this cake, which is unlike any I've ever tasted.
Because there is so much butter in this cake, I wanted the butter to be superb, so I splurged on high-fat European-style cultured butter. Luckily, the Organic Valley butter was on sale. If I ignored the fact that I was buying only a half-pound of butter, the price seemed quite reasonable.
The choice (for the one tablespoon of liquor in the cake) was dark rum or kirsch. I didn't have kirsch--another thing that my burgeoning liquor cabinet is lacking!--but I did have dark rum. When we were in St. John a few years ago, we believed that we were going to continue our practice of having rum drinks every night. Rum drinks don't taste the same in Minnesota as they do in the Virgin Islands, so we still have plenty of rum.
To complement the tropical rum, I decided to use a little of my mango sugar from Maui. A purchase of a bag of mango sugar benefits the Maui Culinary Academy, so of course I had to buy some. It smelled strongly mango-ish when I opened the bag, and I was afraid the mango flavor would overpower everything else, so only about one-third of the sugar in the cake was essence of mango. Even though neither mango nor dark rum is native to Brittany, where this cake hails from, they were both lovely choices.
On to the cake. This was such a simple cake to make that this could be the shortest post in the history of this blog. But it probably won't be that short since I'm feeling quite happy about the outcome of the cake. Toasting the almonds was probably the most complicated step, which shows you how uncomplicated it is.
Or maybe sifting the flour (bleached all-purpose) was the most complicated step. I include this photo as a present to Jim, who loves to take pictures of little mountains of sifted flour.
The fancy butter and fancy sugar are beaten together. And four eggs from free-range chickens are added one at a time.
(Guess who just watched Food, Inc.?  And who is never again going to buy eggs from factory-raised chickens?)
That's about all there is to mixing up the dough, which is very thick when you put it in the tart pan.
It takes a while to smooth it out into the pan. Oh--maybe this is the most difficult step!
I can't even pretend it was difficult in any way to brush on the beaten egg.
Or that it was difficult to make a little crosshatch pattern with a fork, although I did discover that holding the fork rightside up made a better pattern than holding it rightside down.
35 minutes later, it came out of the oven, all shiny and beautiful.
If I didn't know this was French (on account of its being a gâteau, and on account of its being a gâteau from Brittany), I'd think it was French. French things can be really fancy and crazy, but they can also be quite simple and lovely. This is "country," so it's in the simple and lovely category. French country women have better things to do than pipe buttercream. At least, that's my opinion, which is not based on anything factual.
I made this cake to serve our friends June and David for a late dessert after we saw Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Jungle Theater. It was a very good version--Stephen Yoakum and Michelle Barber were fantastic as George and Martha. We were remembering seeing the movie when it came out--about 43 years ago--and David said it's a play you should probably see only once every 43 years.
I was a little worried about serving this gâteau as dessert because it's so plain. But it seemed like it should be plain, so I didn't want to fancify it too much. I decided it called for a single strawberry. But they were very enthusiastic about the cake, plain as it was. June asked if she could eat it with her fingers, and I said she could, because then I could eat it with my fingers too. The advantage of this approach is that cutting it with a fork causes crumbs, which might not get eaten, and you'll want to eat every bite of this cake.
Fortunately, today is Mother's Day, which allowed me to eat a piece of cake for breakfast.
I loved this cake. Rose compares it to pound cake and shortbread, but I thought it was more like a scone. A scone that needs no jam or clotted cream--it shines all on its own. I loved it so much that I believe I may have been a Brittany farm wife in a former life, and this recipe is quite similar to the recipe I learned from my grandmother, also a farm wife from Brittany.
Or maybe I never had a former life, and I just like butter in this one.

Sarah: "Delicious buttery flavor. They remind me a little of the best scones."
June: "It's dense, but not heavy. It's delicious."
David: "What can I say, except that it's really, really good."
Jim: "I like the different textures, crunchy on top and chewy below."


Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Bravo! I loved it too. Did you use whole eggs in your gateau? I used just egg yolks, from free-range eggs that I buy from a lady who raises chickens. Only $2 per dozen, which is a steal if you ask me! Anyway, the eggs are a bit on the small side, but their yolks are much larger and darker in color than the ones found in x-lg grocery store eggs. Also, I was quite surprised to find 4 free-range yolks weighed exactly 74 grams. Never had that happen with grocery store eggs.

I'm happy to have been able to rejoin the group this week - thanks for your patience.


Rozanne said...

Looks amazing Marie. I loved this one because I really love shortbread :) I have never heard of mango sugar.

Melinda said...

It looks really good. I will have to make this one up soon because I am wanting to taste it!

Vicki said...

What a very pretty picture of your very pretty gateau. It looks delicious. I better get out to the chicken coop and gather some eggs. Oh, wait, I don't have a chicken coop anymore! I loved your vision of being a French farm wife.

Kate said...

So happy to hear about your egg conversion :-) Now, have you read about factory-farmed chickens ... ...?

Your Breton cake looks very authentically delicious :-)

Kate said...

... and just in case that first post didn't convince you ;-)

Marie said...

I used all egg yolks, but I didn't do a very good job of separating the last one.
Glad to have you back!

I feel sorry for people who don't like shortbread. I like things that are rich and buttery way better than things that are just sweet.

It would be a fine thing to have for tea, especially after you've been tiptoeing through the bluebells in Checkendon.

I've heard that chickens aren't very nice when you're stealing their eggs. Maybe it's just as well you don't have that chicken coop.

Marie said...

I've been a convert to eggs from organic, free-range chickens for many years now, and I try to eat only meat that's organic and locally raised. I'll admit I'm far from perfect about that, though. Farmer's Market season is starting in a few weeks, and that's the season where I get to feel good about everything I eat.

Mendy said...


Looks great Marie. I over-baked mine because I did not realize that the it was O.K. if the middle looked under-done.

Organic eggs have more Kosher problems for me than the regular ones.

If your interested:

Joe Pastry also has a lot of sensible things to say versus Food Inc etc.

faithy said...

Marie, i have all intention to skip this one but now that you mention that it taste like scones which is like my all-time favorite & comfort food, i am now wondering if i should bake this after work tonight...*decisions..decisions..*

Monica said...

I finish mine tonight.. post tomorrow and oh boy had a piece before I shut down for the night. I think I'm going to have to hide it... I don't see it surviving the night!

Totally agree about the organic eggs. BEST.THING.EVER!

Anonymous said...

Read your posts Mendy, and forgive my ignorance, but doesn't the question of whether an egg could be fertile or not rest not on if it is "organic or natural" but if there is a rooster about?!-

Mendy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mendy said...


Anon: Indeed, the present Kosher issue is mostly not with fertile eggs per-say. Please read the the link I posted above for the details.

From my personal experience and those that I know there tend to be more "blood spots" on the organic eggs.

evil cake lady said...

I loved your Brittany past life fantasy! Maybe that is how you developed your love of butter? The simple strawberry accompaniment looks perfect.

Unknown said...

jim--amazingly good photos of marie's impressive production! all your gateaux looked terrific and each somewhat different. i've written that the ingot or finacier is the fingerprint of the pastry chef but this could also be true of the gateau breton!

now here's a secret you'll enjoy knowing: last year my editor pam suggested that i make 6 cakes to send to some of the top book buyers and guess which cake i chose! not only does the geateau breton ship well, but it keeps well as well. so i made 4-inch ones which turned out to be much more work than one or two large ones but the presentation couldn't be beat. pam's artistic assistant chose beautiful little boxes, ribbons, and cards and i wrote individual notes while she wrapped them. so this cake could well be a good part of the reason that the book is doing so very well. the rest is all of you!!!

Chris said...

Great post Marie. I giggled at the Rum cocktails not translating to Minnesota! But by the looks of the bottle you gave it a good try.

Great photos Jim. I too, love a photo of the sifted flour mountains. You are so giving Marie.

And good on you for mixing it up with the Mango sugar - very impressive, not something you would have done 40 odd cakes ago?

Nicola said...

Marie, Low Conviction is actually me, Nicola. I didn't realise my husband was logged in instead of me...

NancyB said...

I'm with you on the rich and buttery stuff, Marie. This cake hit all the right notes for me. (Must see what happened to my post when I get home tonight--I thought I hit "send"...)

Your mango sugar addition sounds lovely. I'll be keeping an eye out for exotic sugars, now.

Marie said...

Very interesting egg article--I remember eating eggs with blood spots as a child and being extremely grossed out when my mother told me it was an embryo. A fact I wish I hadn't known. I loved the advent of unfertilized eggs for just that reason.

If you don't bake it tonight, you should bake it tomorrow! Or on the weekend.

I'll admit to being very pleased with the way the strawberry looked on the plate. Sometimes less is more.

What a beautiful idea for a gift! My guess is that anyone who was lucky enough to receive one of those little boxes wants to know the secret of this cake.

Thanks for clearing up the identity of Low Conviction. I was very puzzled at why this person I'd never heard of was so chatty. I'm glad to have you back! (You are so right about me not daring to substitute mango sugar 40 cakes ago--40 more cakes and maybe I'll be ready to make my own recipe).

Nancy B,
Exotic sugars is a great idea for a collection! I've got turbinado, muscovado, and now mango. What's next?

Hanaâ said...

That's beautiful Marie! This cake reminds of something I used eat as a kid called "boterkoek". My husband is not too much into butter so I would have to cut this recipe way down to make it for myself. Good call on the European-style butter. I bet it made a difference.

Alpha Baker Joan said...

Marie, Your gateau is really beautiful, and seems to be a real favorite, as you point out. I will make it this weekend. I am learning so much about the organic eggs and the different butters. It is fascinating and so helpful. joan

Anonymous said...

My Mom used brandy instead of rum, I've used it too and I think it taste better, no NUTS!!! this is how e made it in Bretagne, France