I’m not sure where I first saw a recipe for Far Breton, but I’ve been intrigued by it for a while now. I also thought “what a great way to use up some of that buckwheat flour!” And, of course, it’s a French regional dessert that was totally new to me, and didn’t sound too hard, all of which piqued my interest. I have several recipes and opted for the Dorie Greenspan version first, mainly because that recipe used ingredients I had on hand.
I have to admit, that while I speak of being drawn in by curiosity to this cake, at the same time, I wondered how it could be any good–because it relies heavily on prunes. Yes, even though dried grapes and dried apricots are eaten openly and without fear, prunes have a more geriatric association to them, as well as an aura of certain intestinal ailments. But once again, I bring up my husband’s quote: “Trust the French, even if sounds weird, they know what they are doing.” Furthermore, Dorie Greenspan (among many others) probably knows what she is talking about as well. (I’ll note that you can use any other dried fruit if the idea of prunes still horrifies you).
Now, as I got into the recipe, it turned out I had picked the one far Breton recipe that did not require buckwheat. Never mind. The point is, I went ahead and made it. It is truly, as the recipe states, much more like a crepe batter than any cake batter you are familiar with. In fact, you can make it in a blender (though I opted for my food processor as it was in easier range). The batter (if that’s what you can call it) is downright frothy after you mix all the wet ingredients together, and stays that way after adding the flour.
Far breton batter--right before adding flour
I’m not sure why, but you then leave the batter in the fridge overnight–fine by me as I could whip it up after dinner, plunk the dishes in the dishwasher, and go to bed.
What about the prunes, you say? That’s the fun part! You can choose between soaking them in hot earl grey tea or armagnac. As I only had the former, that’s what I went with. While soaking in armagnac certainly sounds more elegant, I liked the idea of using tea in a recipe–coffee is always seen in cakes, ice creams, cookies, and sweets of all sorts, but tea is pretty rarely used for those (or any other culinary) purposes. The tea was less dramatic an option, (you have to light your armagnac soaked prunes to burn off the alcohol) but perhaps a safer one early in the morning while waiting for your coffee to kick in.
When ready, you pour the batter into your cake tin (I used a nine-inch mold rather than the specified eight-inch pan) and then drop the prunes in one by one, trying to scatter them evenly throughout. Then, you bake! A note on this process: I slightly overcooked it as I was expecting for the toothpick to come out dry. I then realized that given how custardy this cake was probably meant to be, if I waited any longer it would be terribly overcooked! I did end up overcooking it slightly (the base of the cake was a bit tougher than I imagine it should have been) but overall the cake was fine. So: the knife should come out clean, but still moist to the touch. Do see the instructions below for cooling the cake; it is so delicate that if it sits directly on the cooling rack, the rack will cut it. (Set parchment paper on the rack before setting the cake on it to cool).
While the cake is not that perfectly geometrical flattened cylinder we think of as a cake, I found its golden landscape of hills and valleys of puffed crust beautiful–and appetizing.
I had a slice after it had cooled a bit and was amazed. Could prunes really taste this good? The custard was creamy, rich from the eggs and milk yet mild, the fruit was melting yet lush-tasting, fragrant and bold. Still, I only had the one, modest slice. Little E and I went off to play, and came back downstairs when my husband came back. I looked at the cake and noticed it was over half gone already. My husband gave me a shrug. I guess he liked it. I guess we will be making it again! (But first I have to try my other far breton recipes…it’s only fair!)
Slice of far breton
Far Breton (adapted from Dorie Greenspan: Baking From My Home to Yours, available here)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, cooled
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup small or medium-size pitted prunes (about 6 ounces)
- 1/2 cup hot Earl Grey tea
Combine milk, eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in blender jar. Blend 1 minute. Add flour and pulse just until blended, scraping down sides of jar. Cover and chill at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.
Pour hot tea over prunes and allow to cool completely.
Line bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Butter paper. Dust pan with flour, shaking out excess; place on baking sheet.
Reblend batter until smooth, about 5 seconds. Pour into prepared cake pan. Drop prunes into batter, distributing evenly (discard excess liquid). Bake cake on baking sheet until sides are puffed and brown and knife inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool cake completely in pan on rack.
Place piece of parchment or waxed paper on flat plate. Sift powdered sugar onto paper. Run knife around cake in pan to loosen. Invert pan onto paper, releasing cake. Remove pan; peel off paper. Place serving plate over cake and invert. Dust top of cake with additional powdered sugar.