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Gâteau Breton, Breton butter cake, is the famous cake-sized shortbread from Brittany. It is not quite the same as kouign-amann, viennoiserie-style layered pastry. Gateau Breton is much easier to make but tastes just as delicious.
I first visited Brittany a few years ago – lovely coastline, weatherwise pretty much like England, with better seafood. My hotel was right on the sea front, with a beautiful view of mainly rain and mist. The tide was mightily impressive, but as you will have guessed it mostly rained, you could tell tide was in if your feet got wet very quickly while taking a walk. That was in the lovely town of Cancale, world famous for oysters, where I greatly impressed a rather stroppy waitress by having polished off single-handedly a large platter of predominantly living things. Because my mission in Brittany was: oysters, crevettes grises and gateau Breton.
I’d tasted it a while back, brought back from hols in France by a friend and I liked it so much I had to research it and make my own. So how did my home endeavours compare with the genuine article? I must say – mine is a pretty damn good replica!
It is unlike any other cake I’ve tried, the crunchy crust quite short and dense but not as crumbly as shortcrust. It melts in your mouth and has a lovely flavour from all those egg yolks and butter.
It can be filled with jam, classically cherry but I don't think the French are quite so orthodox about it. Other varieties have a layer of crème pâtissière in the middle.
The interesting thing is that the Pays Basque have their own version – called, of course, gateau basque. It tastes quite similar, the method is only slightly different and if you delve deeper into French recipe sites it turns out the process actually could be identical. So anyway what I offer below is probably the richer option with yolks only and an awful lot of butter – and so, so good.
This recipe comes from De Bonnes Recettes du Monde.
gateau bretonServings: 12-16Time: about an hour and a half
- 6 egg yolks plus one for the topping
- 250g softened, slightly salted butter
- 250g caster sugar
- 450g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or scraped vanilla pod
- about half a jar of good jam, cherry, plum or apricot
1. Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F, gas 4. Put a baking sheet on the middle rack – the cake tin will go on top of it.
2. In a large bowl mix the flour with the baking powder, salt, sugar and vanilla. Add the 6 egg yolks and mix well, by hand or with an electric mixer. Add the butter in small pieces and mix in with a mixer or rub it in by hand until it comes together. Turn the pastry onto a board or work surface and form a ball. Divide into two (the part for the lid might want to be slightly smaller).
3. Roll or press down the larger part to line a flan or tart dish about 24cm dia. Make sure the pastry forms a bit of a rim around the dish. Spoon the jam onto the base evenly, making sure it reaches the edges (otherwise you’ll end up with a dry jamless cake rim).
4. Roll out the other part of the pastry between two sheets of the cling film, peel off the top sheet and transfer the pastry circle to cover the base, with the help of a rolling pin if necessary. Don’t worry if it cracks or breaks, just patch it up and seal it together with your fingers. Press down around the rim so the jam doesn’t leak.
5. Brush the top with the seventh egg yolk and make some swirly-whirly patterns on it with a fork. Bake for about 45 - 60 mins until golden on top and darker around the edge. Cool in the dish and you may as well keep it in it or the cake might crumble.