Gâteau Nantais


Always on the look out for regional French baked goods, this one came to my attention some months ago thanks to a link to a Washington Post piece (from which the recipe comes) sent by my friend MBT. I’ve had it on my to do list ever since and finally got around to purchasing a bottle of rum, an ingredient that typically doesn’t grab my attention nor my taste buds!. Buuuuutt - desirous of keeping to the classic recipe I simply had to include the rum n’est-ce pas?

The preparation is oh-so straight forward but give yourself a day or two ahead of serving since it’s recommended that you let this rum soaked/glazed cake sit for a day for the flavors to infuse. And be sure you have SALTED butter on hand, an absolute when baking anything even remotely associated with Brittany. While present day Nantes is located in the Pays de la Loire region, it was once the capital of Brittany and home to les Ducs de Bretagne. Those Bretons do love their butter.

There are three components: rum simple syrup, almond sponge cake and confectioner’s sugar glaze.

Make the syrup: Heat 75 g granulated sugar with 155 ml water over low-medium heat in a small saucepan. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar then increase to high and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cool then add 3 tablespoons dark rum. This can be made several days ahead and held in the fridge. The recipe makes plenty for one cake and any leftover will keep in the fridge for weeks as any simple syrup will.

Make the cake: Heat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 8” springform pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment then butter the parchment.
Place 125 g salted butter and 150 g granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use an electric handheld mixer) and beat with the paddle on medium low until creamy. Add 125 g almond flour and beat to incorporate. In a separate bowl lightly beat 3 large eggs and add them to the batter in three or four additions, blending well after each addition. Add 40 g all purpose flour and 3 tablespoons of rum and beat on medium to create a smooth batter.
Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.


Bake 40-45 minutes until set in the center and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.


Once out of the oven, loosen the pan, turn the cake out onto a cooling rack, remove the bottom parchment than flip right side up onto another cooling rack set over a sheet pan. Brush the warm cake generously with about half of the rum syrup.


Once the cake has cooled completely give it another decent brushing of rum syrup.

For the glaze: mix 100 g confectioner’s sugar with 1 tablespoon rum and add small amounts of water until you have a glaze that will drizzle and spread smoothly. You can spread it on top only, as I did, or let it drip down the sides - it’s up to you.


Now it’s ready to cover and let sit for a day. Steve and I behaved ourselves and waited the requisite time frame before diving in for a taste.


To our delight, the rum essence was not at all overpowering and the cake offered a pleasing density, moistness and all around lovely taste. My one regret is that I didn’t avoid the top-of-the-cake grid marks from the cooling rack but that certainly didn’t detract from the overall enjoyment. One small slice is all it takes to comprehend le gâteau Nantais. Now we just have to visit Nantes and enjoy a slice! Maybe we’ll see you there?


Gateau Breton

Perhaps I've mentioned this wonderful goodie in previous posts, if only to speak of its ease of preparation and its delightful taste and texture.  In the wake of making a walnut version recently, I thought it time to focus on Breton dough a bit more.  


Gateau Breton au noix

In Brittany a simple gateau Breton is a common offering for petit déjeuner.  It's hard to describe its texture - kind of a cross between cake and shortbread.  When you first take a bite, there is a crispiness to the exterior, but then you reach a dense, almost cake-like interior full of buttery goodness. So deelish.

Breton dough is in the sablé category of dough, but differs from some pâte sablés by changing up the sugar, butter and flour ratios, adding more egg yolks plus baking powder, not a typical ingredient in shortbread and tart doughs.

There are many Breton dough recipes out there.  Most of them utilize equal weights (or close) of sugar and butter in addition to a number of egg yolks, and an amount of flour that is usually about 2 times by weight of that of the sugar or butter.  You can replace some of the flour with a ground nut flour of choice, e.g. almond, pistachio or walnut. Tons of variations exist!

The beauty of Breton dough is its ease of mixing and shaping.  Plus, depending on how thick you bake it, you'll end up with a crispy shortbread (baked thin) or a classic gateau Breton (baked thick).  How can you go wrong with those choices?!

For my walnut version I used Christophe Felder's sablé Breton recipe from his book Les Folles Tartes, replacing the almond flour with toasted, then ground walnuts (toasting nuts before using brings out their flavor!).

I'm a pastry chef who takes lots of notes.  In Felder's book the dough is described thus:  "sablé aéré et léger", and my notation of 2/11/11 was "c'est vrai!" On that date I baked this Breton dough in 60 mm rings and served it with ricotta custard, almond nougatine and a blackberry/raspberry sorbet.  Wow! 

How can something be dense yet airy and light at the same time?  You just have to taste it to understand.

I've since created versions of Breton tarts by topping the dough with almond or pistachio cream and berries or cherries before baking.  You can also add a layer of raspberry or apricot jam (or any flavor you want!) between two layers of dough before baking.  Or bake it plain and top with citrus curd and fresh fruit or coconut cream, candied lime zest and chopped crystallized ginger.  Just use your imagination!

On to the recipe.

les ingredients

There are different methods of mixing the dough - I use the one I learned at LCB in Paris in which one puts all the ingredients except the yolks in the mixing bowl, brings it to the crumbly stage, then adds the yolks and mixes just until the dough comes together.  So easy.

Here goes.  Place 140 g sugar, 150 g diced/cool butter, 200 g all purpose flour, 70 g ground toasted walnuts (almonds if you're following Felder's recipe), 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the mixing bowl.

NOTE:  Felder calls for 20 g baking powder which is about 2 tablespoons.  I opted to cut it back so as to avoid too heavy of a baking powder taste.

Mix with the paddle on low until coarse crumbs.  Have 3 egg yolks standing by.

ready to start mixing

coarse crumbs

Now add the 3 yolks and blend just until the dough comes together.

c'est fini!

I baked my gateaux Bretons in 80 mm (~3") wide, 2.5 cm (1") tall open rings.  Butter them first and place them on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Heat the oven to 325ºF (I use convection).

Here's the beauty of Breton dough.  When baking it this way, you don't have to chill it or let it rest first.  You can simply press it into place.  I divided the dough up among 6 rings ( ~105 g per ring) and pressed it down evenly.

all divided up

all pressed down evenly

On a side note, if you're baking this dough as a thin cookie, you should wrap and chill it for a couple of hours first.  Then you can roll it out on a lightly floured surface and cut shapes of choice.

Bake these gateaux for about 20-25 minutes and REMEMBER - always watch what's going on in your oven. You're looking for golden brown deliciousness, and the dough should have risen up along the edges of the rings.

golden brown

looks yummy

Let cool for about 10-15 minutes before gently removing from the rings.

I served the gateaux with warm, sautéed plums prepared as follows.

Thinly slice 4 plums, toss them with a bit of lemon zest,  about 1/4 cup of vanilla sugar and  a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch . . . .

all mixed up

then sauté them over med-low heat until the juices are released and start to thicken, 5-10 minutes.

thickened up and ready to go

And the piéce de resistance . . . .

Gateau Breton with sautéed plums, chantilly cream and nut crumble

Très, très délicieux!

Happy autumn tout le monde!!