Brittany Cake Aux Pruneaux

January 22, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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The Neverending Story was one of my favorite childhood movies. I loved the back and forth between Sebastian eating his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the attic of his school and young Atreyu on his white horse (well, not for long…Artax!) journeying to kill The Nothing. Mostly, though, I loved the idea of this dusty old book, discovered in a hidden-away book shop, that teleports our young hero to another world. I felt the same way, the other day, making a dessert from a cookbook I bought at Bonnie Slotnick’s in the West Village.

The book is Madeleine Kamman’s “When French Women Cook.” I first heard of Madeleine Kamman when I cooked with Gary Danko for my own book. Danko became obsessed with Kamman’s seminal work, “The Making of a Cook,” while in culinary school and eventually pursued her in real life in hopes of learning from her directly. That story (which you should read in the Gary Danko section of “Secrets”) was on my mind when I visited Bonnie’s and asked if she had “The Making of a Cook.” The answer was “no” but it turns out Bonnie had something better.

“When French Women Cook” is a memoir filled with the kinds of recipes you fantasize about when you imagine growing up in France. This isn’t the silver platter food you’d find at a Michelin 3-star restaurant; this is the food that French grandmothers serve at family dinners. The recipes are quirky and slightly intimidating (Quenelles of Pheasant with Morel Sauce, for example) but that’s what makes the book so fun to read. I’m the Sebastian and Madeleine is my Atreyu; the question is: do I step up like Sebastian steps up at the climax of the movie and enter the story myself? Bring on the prunes!

Confession: this recipe, when translated to English, is “Brittany Cake Filled with Prune Paste.” Something told me that if I put “Prune Paste” in the title of this post, nobody would click it. So I mashed up English and French, translating the first half (everyone likes “cake”) and leaving the second half in French because “aux pruneaux” just sounds way better. And the thing is: prunes are just dried plums and everybody loves plums, don’t they? Here you’re just cooking them in apple cider until they’re soft and then you mash them up into a paste.

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The rest is fairly straightforward. You make a cake batter using butter (I chose Plugra to best mimic French butter), egg yolks, sugar, flour and corn starch. I couldn’t find orange flower water, which is used to flavor the cake, so tried vanilla instead. It worked nicely.

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The hardest part is layering the cake batter, the prune paste, and then more cake batter on top. Amateurs (and hey, aren’t I an amateur?) will most likely swirl the prune up with the batter as they try to do this, creating a ghastly mess. Your best bet is to put a thin layer of cake batter on the bottom of the cake pan, put the prune paste on carefully and then dump the bulk of the remaining cake batter in the center so you can spread it out evenly. After that, you use the tines of your fork to create a pretty pattern and brush everything with egg yolk to get a nice color.

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When it comes out of your oven, you may not have that instant excitement you get when you bake cookies or brownies or muffins or biscuits. Instead, though, like Sebastian in his attic, you’ll find yourself instantly whisked away to a land of French grandmothers on white horses battling wolves while befriending dragons. It’s not the kind of recipe that’ll get me lots of traffic here on my blog (who Googles “Brittany Cake Aux Pruneaux”?) but it’s the kind of recipe that makes me love cooking. And ultimately, that’s why I have this blog in the first place.

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Recipe: Brittany Cake Aux Pruneaux

Summary: From Madeleine Kamman’s “When French Women Cook.”

Ingredients

  • 1 dozen soft, pitted California prunes
  • 1 cup cider
  • 1 cup lightly salted European-style butter (I used Plugra; use one whole package, 225 g; you may need to add a pinch of salt, since I’m pretty sure Plugra’s not salted)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar (125 g; I used weights, as she does)
  • 1 tsp. orange flower water (you can substitute vanilla, though I’m sure it’s not nearly as good)
  • 1 2/3 cups sifted flour (180 g)
  • 2 Tbs. sifted cornstarch (5 g)
  • 1 Tbs. butter to butter the cake pan

Instructions

  1. Put the prunes into a one-quart saucepan. Add the cider and cook the prunes until they fall apart. Reduce to a stiff paste by stirring well over medium heat. Cool completely.
  2. Cream the butter in a bowl until positively white. Add the whole egg, 2 egg yolks, sugar and orange flower water. Beat without stopping for 10 minutes on medium speed. Mix the flour and the cornstarch. Add to the butter and egg mixture without beating; just mix in the flour, flattening the batter against the edges of the bowl.
  3. Butter a 9-inch baking pan (I used a springform cake pan) with one full tablespoon of butter. Spread half of the cake batter on the bottom of the pan. Spread the prune paste on that first layer of batter. Leave about 3/4 inch all around the cake free of paste.
  4. Finish the cake by topping the prune layer with the remainder of the cake batter. Smooth the top of the cake. Brush with the last egg yolk and trace a crisscross pattern on the cake with a fork. Bake in a 350 oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Unmold only when cold.

Quick notes

If I had to make this cake again, I would definitely add salt. Maybe a teaspoon of French sea salt, just to bring out all the flavors.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 35 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8

Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Cakes, Desserts, Recipes

  • http://www.mkworkshopblog.wordpress.com/ M.K.

    This looks so good, I love prunes in pastry/cakes. And I like your fancy forkwork.

    Speaking of new cookbooks, do you have Fuschia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice yet? It’s amazing.

  • Adrienne

    Ooh, lovely! I went to a culinary school started by a Kamman disciple, and this very cake is part of the regional French curriculum. It’s delicious, thanks for reminding me :)

  • Kristen

    Amazing. I first fell in love with prunes when my great grandmother made “Finnish Christmas stars,” which are made from a cinnamony apple cider-y prune paste put into folded puff pastry and topped with powdered sugar. I agree that prunes aren’t the sexiest of names, but this cake looks sexy in a very rustic way. Question: does it taste more cakey and less pruney or an even mix? I cannot wait to try the recipe. Love your blog!

  • Barry

    I love your blog, and this is a great post. one comment about applying the “lid” to Breton-style gateaux… Since the batter is so soft, I was taught to form the covering layer of dough into a disk on and easily movable flat surface, for instance the bottom of a removable tart pan. Use PLENTY of flour! Then just slide the disk of dough onto the cake filling, seal up the edges, score the top, and … VOILA! This completely avoids the issue of disturbing the filling that you describe. Works for me every time.

  • ami@naivecookcooks

    yumm! That looks so amazing :)

  • NancyRing

    This looks delicious!!

  • Talie

    I will now start forever Google-ing “Brittany cake aux pruneaux”. delicious!

  • http://twitter.com/LawStudentsWife Erin

    Ohhh lala, why do prunes get such a nasty reputation, especially when one can turn them into something so deep-down “I heart dessert…and my grandma” satisfying?! I’m so glad you dared to publish about prunes. They deserve their day!

  • elizabeth

    OK, so I am someone who has googled–not cake aux pruneaux–but cake with prunes after discovering how delicious prunes really are, and I have to make this! And I can’t wait to get my hands on the Kammam book–I’ve read the other one and it was lovely.

  • Emma Rae

    My first time reading this blog and this is the wonderful headline article – I even read it knowing that it was going to be cake with prunes. What a great story and I’m looking forward to trying that recipe and trying to get hold of a copy of that book. Thanks!

  • witloof

    Hi Adam,

    If you live near a Whole Foods, they’ll have the orange flower water. So will any good liquor store. Unless you just meant that you couldn’t find it in your pantry?
    This looks lovely. I would be tempted to substitute California apricots for the prunes and to poach them in some kind of alcohol. Grand Marnier, maybe? Or to use prunes and poach them in bourbon. Not very grandmotherly of me.

  • http://twitter.com/piesandplots Laura Dembowski

    The cake looks great! Prunes are highly underrated and should be used in baked goods more frequently.

  • Mona

    You can find orange blossom water in any middle eastern store. It comes in a clear bottle with a red label. You can also buy rose water as well.

  • Brenda

    Hi, just discovered your blog and the above recipe is my first to try. Made it last weekend and it was just delicious! My prune layer came out beautifully (used a few prunes more though). I´m gonna try this recipe some time with abricots too, as a spring/summer version of the cake.

  • Manisha

    You didn’t say how it tasted! If you wrote about how the final product tasted it might change your reader’s opinion about prunes and actually make the recipe… which in my opinion is what takes a food blog to the next level: people looking at a recipe and actually going into the kitchen and making it

  • Anonymous

    It tasted like a buttery cake with a fruity filling, almost like a Fig Newton in cake form.

  • Dana @ Foodie Goes Healthy

    Hi Adam- I love the last 2 lines of the story of this post. What a beautiful quote. It’s what I love about your blog- your love of food, humor and honesty always shine through. I too blog for the love of food and sharing that passion with others.

  • Calvin

    This sounds delicious. Could you maybe use 1/2 teaspoon orange extract in place of the orange flower water?

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure that’d be a good idea. I think orange flower water is a very specific flavor that is probably more flowery than orangey. But, on the flip side, it won’t taste bad to do that… so follow your gut!

  • lucbzh

    Hello Adam, thank you for posting this recipes this send me back 50 years in the pass. My grandma and mom were doing this cake (we are from Brittany). I call my mom to get her recipe for the reason the photos did look like what I can remember. For the first time I cook the gateaux and it was very delicious. I replace the cider to cook the plum with water and added a shot of Grand Marnier and the orange flower water was replace with Grand Marnier also. My mom also used the disc to place the lid on the top. She child the disc before placing it on the top make it also easy to work with it.
    Thank you to make me try some thing that good.
    Luc

  • Nathalie

    Hello Adam,
    Another wonderful post ! Since everyone is talking about the orange blossom water I thought I’d mention a culinary or “digestive” custom in Lebanon : hostesses will offer coffee or white coffee after a meal. White coffee is actually a tsp of orange blossom water in a small cup (expresso size) of hot water that you then sweeten to taste. No caffeine is involved :) and it’s soothing after a meal. Try it !