This recipe for Gateau Breton is brought to us by one of my readers, Oliver, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for this marvelous French pastry which comes from the Bretagne region of France; which is known for its butter and sea salt.
Gateau Breton is destined to become one of your favorites. It can be served for breakfast – it makes getting up a joy! Or, serve it as a great dessert, a snack or, if you’re like me, just have a piece whenever. I love the filling that is baked between two layers of dough. It features the same cross hatch design as the cookies and looks like it came from the best European bakeries.
The tourism website of Brittany has mouth watering photos and descriptions of more pastry specialties from this area. Alas, no recipes but wonderful to look at.
European Butters or High Fat Butters
European butters hit our markets some years ago and the American manufacturers of butters followed. These butters have at least 82% butterfat as opposed to the 80% minimum in American regular butters. All 82% or more butters are known as high-fat butters. However, they are not alike in all aspects.
Many, many years ago, when I ventured into my bakery business European white chocolate was banned from the states. It had something to do with it being classified as a dairy product and not a chocolate and as such was reclassified and in doing so it was banned. At the time I used all European chocolate in my products.
Because I had a 500 pound minimum to purchase as wholesale, I didn’t want to split up suppliers so I went on a hunt for good American chocolate. This was in the late 80’s so you have to remember food and food products were not the big thing they are now. I contacted several companies, some of which responded well, others not so much. But the standout favorite was Guittard Chocolate. I was especially grateful to the head of the sales department who always responded to my phone calls (no internet at that time) and helped me in every way possible. As my company grew, I used thousands of pounds of their chocolate, dark and white.
But to the point, he told me about the grass. I never would have thought about grass having such a profound impact on the taste of food from different countries. And herein is why butter and chocolate from different countries tastes different. The grass in different countries tastes different. The cows eat the grass and so their milk will taste different. So even if the butters are all 82% or higher, the taste may very well differ which is why European butter may taste different than American high fat butters.
There are many high-fat butters on the market now. My favorite is Kerry Gold. However, Plugra was one of the first and many others followed including Land ‘O Lakes. To make things more complicated there are also cultured butters on the market but that is a discussion for another time.
I don’t use European butters in all my baking. In some items I actually prefer 80% butter because it doesn’t soften as quickly while being worked as can European butters.
Having said all that, it will still be good with American butter but I highly recommend the European for this recipe.
Ingredients for the Gateau Breton
Because this Gateau Breton is very butter forward, I used salted Kerry Gold Salted Butter. When making Sable Breton, the famous butter cookie from Breton, salted butter is a must. Although it wasn’t specified in the recipe I found online, I used it because of the connection.
The recipes found online and including this one are essentially based on a single recipe from Patisserie Made Simple by Edd Kimber of England. The NY Times ran it and it has appeared elsewhere with minor changes. While the original recipe is written in grams, the American measurements come out rather strangely. I altered my ingredients so they make more sense.
Prunes are the fruit of choice for the filling of the original Gateau Breton. As such, I kept them and also because I love prune filling. Europeans use prunes a lot in their fillings but for some reason, unknown to me, Americans don’t go that route. Prunes are simply dried Italian blue plums, also known as blue plums and prune plums. Mr. Kimber uses the prune filling, but I changed mine to add more flavor.
I have also included an apricot filling that seems to be more favored by American writers. The choice is yours but you won’t do any better than the prune filling.
Gateau Breton couldn’t be easier to make. For the pastry, it only takes four ingredients. To make things even easier, you just whiz it up in the food processor.
This is one of the easiest, most beautiful, best tasting pastries you will ever make. So let’s get to it!
4 ounces dried prunes
⅓ cup water
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon butter, cut into several small pieces (15 grams or ½ ounce)
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Place the prunes, water and dark rum in a small pan. Bring it to a boil and cook until most of the water has evaporated. Remove it from the heat and mash the prunes with the back of a spoon until smooth. Don’t worry if a few small pieces are left. And the remaining ingredients, stirring until the butter melts and all is combined. Set aside to cool.
Yield: ¾ cup, 200 grams or 7 ounces
Gateau Breton Pastry
1 cup salted European style butter, cold (225 grams or 8 ounces)
6 large egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour (280 grams or 10 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams or 7 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8” round cake pan with parchment paper. Spray the paper and entire cake pan with a non-stick baking release. Set aside.
Using the round pan, draw an 8” circle in the middle of a piece of parchment paper. Turn it over and set aside.
Cut the butter into small pieces and keep refrigerated until using.
Reserve one egg yolk for the finish. Place it in a small bowl and cover it directly with plastic wrap. To cover directly refers to placing the plastic wrap directly on top of the yolk. Refrigerate until needed.
Combine the flour and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the cold butter and process until it is indistinguishable.
Add the five egg yolks and process until the dough comes together. I found I had to rearrange the dough in the processor a couple of time before it was smooth. Be sure to scrape down.
Remove the dough from the processor. Clean the blade by pulsing several times. Bring the dough together in one piece. It will be soft at this point. Do not add flour to the work surface. Just use a gentle motion to bring it together. It will weigh about 770 grams or about 27 ounces. Divide it in half or about 385 grams each or 13 ½ ounces each. Shape into discs.
I was able to continue without refrigerating the pastry. However, if the dough is too soft to work chill it for about 2 hours or so until it firms up. Do not let it get too hard or it will be difficult to work.
Place one disc in the middle of the pan. Cover it with plastic wrap and press it out evenly to cover the bottom of the pan.
Remove the plastic wrap. Spread the filling to within about ¾ inch from the sides.
Place the second disc of pastry in the middle of the circle on the parchment paper. Place another piece of parchment or waxed paper over the pastry and roll out to fit withing the 8” circle.
Flip the paper over so the bottom is on top. If the pastry does not exactly fit, adjust it now.
Chill just until firm but not hard, about 10 to 15 minutes.
In the meantime, stir a teaspoon of water into the reserved egg yolk.
Dampen the edges of the bottom piece of pastry with water and place the top over the filling. Press the top and bottom edges together lightly.
Apply the egg wash to the top of the cake. Using a fork, draw a cross hatch on the top layer. I have to admit I forgot to take the pictures here. So these are from the Sable Breton cookies. You can make the cross hatch design this way or as in the photo of the Gateau Breton below.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes until the top is a medium brown. Cover with foil if it browns too quickly. You won't believe how wonderful this smells coming from the oven. It's hard to wait for it to cool.
Cool to lukewarm, go around the edges of the pan with a small metal spatula and turn the gateau out. Cool completely right side up.
This will keep for at least 5 days covered, I’ve read. It never made it anywhere near that time in my house.
Alternate Apricot Filling for the Gateau Breton
Substitute dried apricots for the prunes in the filling above.
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