Saturday, 31 August 2013

A Breton cake to help us get back to reality

The last full week of the school holidays is almost done. I am starting to plan some little bits of me time for next week; we just have Monday to go and I know I'll be spending that day with a great friend so I am on the home run. Sorry if I am sounding a bit selfish; we have had some fantastic times in the last few weeks, but I have also had some real challenges with two small people who would really rather the other one wasn't there. Last year they were good friends at this point but this year our best days have definitely involved time apart. They even had a fight when one of them found a ladybird in the garden and the other one wanted one too. Anyway I am brewing a good list of solo projects for the near future:-
  • Buy a new raincoat.
  • Look into new warm winter coats.
  • Autumnal and wintry clothes in general (I am two sizes smaller than I was in February).
  • Investigate knee-high boots. Before I wasn't able to zip them up as my calves were a tad too hefty (what an undignified admission to make, doesn't that sound attractive?) but I have high hopes this year.
  • Creativity - get making some felt, and lots of it (of course).
  • Music: listen to lots. Buy some new things. Dance around the kitchen when nobody is around.
  • Clear out all unnecessary emails. Nobody needs 2911 items in their inbox. Maybe it will clear out my head too.
It has been a busy last week, trying to see everyone and do everything that we hadn't managed before. I had forgotten that ages ago we'd asked our friend the very cheap but erratic builder if he could dismantle the big pergola in our garden that has been collapsing under the weight of its own overgrown grapevine, and the brick barbecue and remodel the whole area a bit. So when he turned up out of the blue on Tuesday with someone who would be doing the work, it was a bit of a surprise. A cake would be needed. And I had just the recipe. For two years when we've been to Brittany, we have been beguiled but also baffled by the delicious "gateau breton", a beautifully sweet cross between a cake and a shortbread, with the distinctive taste of Breton salted butter. I've looked up recipes before - mainly in an attempt to find out if there were ground almonds in it as child number one is allergic to nuts. It turns out that it contains no nuts but sadly the most popular recipe online for it was Nigella's, which was very very wrong as she is adamant that you need unsalted butter for it (I am tempted to make an ill-judged strangling joke here but will refrain). This year I had a stroke of luck. When we go to France I always buy far more French magazines than necessary, in an attempt to feed the poor starved section of my brain that deals with, and longs for, foreign languages. I spend hours in magazine shops, much to the bemusement of the rest of the family. This time among other things I picked up one all about food in Brittany, and there inside was a whole section about the gateau breton and the first ever world gateau breton competition, held recently. And sure enough, there was the recipe from the  "free recipe" winner (there were two sections: one with a prescribed recipe and one for people who had their own tried and tested). So on Tuesday, with a house full of children and a hungry-looking workman in the garden, I gave thanks to Maryvonne Jaffrezic, the winner, and grabbed all the things I needed...

Gateau Breton

450g plain flour
380g salted butter at room temperature
25g sugar
125g light brown soft sugar
5 egg yolks, plus 1 more for glazing the top
1 capful of dark rum
A few drops of oil

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or Gas Mark 6. Take a 24cm round cake tin and grease it. I lined mine with baking parchment too. Put the flour and sugar in a big bowl, make a well and put the egg yolks and rum in the hollow. Mix, then add the butter bit by bit. Work the dough with your hands for five minutes (I found this really messy as it tend to stick to your hands. Ignore the phone when it rings). Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin, spread it out and smooth it down well with a spatula as much as you can (this isn't easy as again the mixture just sticks to your spatula). Then mix up the last egg yolk with the oil in a cup, take a pastry brush and paint the egg mixture all over the surface (I found that this brushing helped to smooth out the last of the peaks left by the spatula). Finally we come to the decoration: this is easy if you've seen a gateau breton before but hard to explain if you haven't. Take a fork and draw straight lines on the top with it, around 2cm apart. Then do similar lines at an angle to the first lines, so that you have a diamond pattern on your cake. Some small fork marks around the edges (as if it were a pie), and you are done. Put it in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, watching the colour: it needs to be darkish but if it's looking too brown, cover it with foil. The magazine is keen to mention how well this cake keeps: sailors would often take them away on long journeys. Ours is still doing well after 5 days but I don't think it will be around long enough for me to comment on the fortnight they mention in the magazine, and definitely not the fourteen months vintage that someone in there testified to having once tasted. But it is a rich and large cake - if unassuming in this age of cupcakes, icing and cake toppers - and if it were not for the nice man in the garden who expends enough calories digging and lifting to easily justify two slices of it every day he's been here, I dare say it would last a good 10 days. Sorry I forgot to take a photo of it whole, but there was an urgency about it...