Mini Breton cakes, individual gateaux Bretons made from the richest, nicest Breton pastry, with lots of famous hand-churned Brittany butter in the ingredients.
What is Breton butter cake?
Breton butter cake or gateau Breton is one of the best things to come out of northern France. The cake is a sort of giant or individual shortbread filled with fruit preserve or crème pâtissière (custard), only less crunchy, softer, flakier and more buttery than the softest and the most buttery shortbread.
It is made with lightly salted butter and so it has this whisper of saltiness cutting through the sweet, which of course is irresistible as all salted caramel lovers in the world know well.
It is without question my and the Weather Man’s favourite cake, especially in its full-sized version. The downside of me researching and always making new cakes is that we never get to bake repeat favourites, or hardly ever. That however does not apply to gateau Breton – whatever happens, it must land on the cake stand at least three or four times a year.
It’s a special thing, a special treat to us, while in Brittany gateau Breton is sold in every single bakery. It comes in full size giant wheels and smaller, cookie sized individual cakes.
The secret's in the butter
The pastry is as rich as it is simple: flour, egg yolks, sugar and the famous hand-churned Breton butter, beurre de baratte. I bet they don’t use the artisanal butter every day in all the patisseries in Brittany, but the traditional recipe instructs to do so.
It would be an excellent experiment to churn my own butter and bake a Breton cake with it, just to see whether it would come out heavenly better.
The butter should be lightly salted which always prompts me to deliberate forever in the dairy aisle, comparing the salt content of various butters.
Calon Wen, Welsh organic butter has only 1% salt content which is ideal, but it’s expensive. Lurpak is a decent butter and priced sensibly for baking.
How to make Breton butter pastry?
It is as easy as it’s delicious: dry ingredients stirred together, egg yolks beaten in with a mixer or just a wooden spoon and rubbing in butter – as if you were making a shortbread. The resulting dough is wonderfully pliable – it needs a rest in the fridge, for at least an hour.
It’s rather hard when it comes out so either let it sit on the worktop for half an hour and soften, or bash it lightly with a rolling pin.
Making the individual cakes is a little more laborious than one large wheel, but on the other hand it’s easier to put lids over small ones. Cut the bottoms slightly larger than your cases, the lids a little smaller and fill them generously with favourite jam.
For authenticity, it is worth using an extra egg yolk to brush over the tops, and to draw swirls or criss-crosses in it with a fork. When baked, they come out golden and glossy, burnished and utterly tempting!
It is only one of the delights of Brittany alongside butter biscuits aka galettes sablés, kouign-amann and far Breton. And that’s only the sweets! Because primarily, you visit Brittany to gorge on oysters, mussels, whelks, crabs and the rest of the wonderful seafood they are famous for.
More Breton recipes
Once you’ve made the individual Breton cakes, next time you might want to have a go at the full sized gateau Breton.
Kouign-amann is buttery laminated pastry filled with more butter and sugar – yes, a nutritional hell but delicious to die for.
Sablés Bretons or galettes bretonnes are delicate, buttery shortbread biscuits. That’s right – it’s all about butter in Brittany!
More pastry recipes
There’s Danish pastry, and there’s easy Danish – the choice is yours. The former is also suitable to make croissants from.
Puff pastry made at home? Only if it’s rough puff – unbelievably easy and workable production. Excellent for pies and sweet bites.
Canadian butter tarts are made for Canada Day, 1st July, but there’s absolutely no reason not to make them on any other day, all year round.