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Breton pastries, cakes and sweet treats Melting moments for food-lovers

Breton pastries

There’s nothing better than finishing a meal on a sweet note or enjoying a sweet treat at any time of day. In Brittany, everyone knows that butter is the most important ingredient in cakes and biscuits. Breton pastries and sweet treats (also known as ‘lichouseries’ from the Breton word lichou meaning ‘gourmand’) are always very popular and make the best holiday memories.

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Kouign-amann

This cake was invented in Douarnenez around 1865 and will melt the heart of every gourmand. The ingredients are simple, but making it requires skill: they say anyone can try but few really get it right. It is made from a bread mixture with added sugar and salted farm butter, repeatedly folded in much the same way as puff pastry. The quality of the salted butter and the resting time of the mixture are key factors in making a successful Kouign-amann. When baked, the butter and sugar mixture melts and gives the whole cake a melting texture on the inside and a caramelised glaze on the outside. It’s very hard to resist! It’s a national institution that you can try anywhere in Brittany, but the best place to taste this speciality is in Cornouaille, where there’s a group of bakers and pastry cooks known as the Association du ‘Véritable kouign-amann de Douarnenez’ (Association for the true Douarnenez Kouign-amann).

Far Breton

Far breton is a real classic. The ingredients of this flan are very simple and so is the recipe: flour, eggs, milk – preferably full cream to make it more buttery – butter and sugar, all cooked in the oven (which explains its name in Breton: farz forn, meaning ‘a far in the oven’). Simple but delicious! The best known version includes prunes because sailors used to bring back dried plums from their voyages, which added a fruity note to the traditional recipe. It can also be flavoured with a dash of rum or enjoyed with raisins. A hearty kind of cake that will certainly fill any food-lover’s stomach at teatime.

 

Gâteau breton

The gâteau breton comes originally from the area around Lorient. This is a generous-sized shortbread biscuit made with salted butter, with a crust decorated in a lattice pattern made with a fork. In the past it was known as a ‘gâteau de voyage’ (traveller’s biscuit) because it would keep for several weeks and was very popular with sailors. It measures 12 to 25 centimetres in diameter and is 3 to 4 centimetres thick. A large biscuit like this must contain at least 20% butter to earn the name ‘gâteau breton’. You can sometimes find them with a filling of prunes or salted caramel. There are many competitions to find the best gâteau and it even has its own confrérie (trade guild), which stoutly defends the unique recipe for this iconic biscuit.

Fondant Baulois

Under its fine, meringue-like crust, this chocolate fondant hides a wonderful texture and a unique taste with a hint of salted caramel. A red seal shows that it’s an authentic product. With a nod to the famous beach huts of La Baule, this cake is sold in a pretty blue and white striped box.

Breton biscuits

The wide range of Breton biscuits are perfect with a cup of tea or coffee or as a tea time treat for children. They are made with simple recipes and ingredients, featuring the ever-present salted butter. The galette bretonne, in its most basic version (round, fine, perforated or not), owes its fame to the galettes de Pont-Aven, created by Isidore Penven in 1890. The punch is lighter and crumblier than the galette and is a speciality of central Brittany. However, the palet breton is a thicker biscuit, more than a centimetre thick, made with salted butter and invented in 1920 by Alexis Le Villain, a Pont-Aven baker, who named it Traou Mad (which means ‘good things’). It gets its name and appearance from the traditional game that involves throwing iron quoits (palets) onto a wooden plank. Another speciality to look out for is the hand-rolled cigarette pur beurre de baratte (pure churned butter cigarette), a brand-name that came from La Trinitaine biscuit factory in 1950.

Crêpe dentelle

In 1886, the crêpe maker Marie-Catherine Cornic absent-mindedly left a crêpe cooking too long on the griddle. She had unknowingly invented the crêpe dentelle, a light, golden-brown delicacy made by rolling up the crêpe eight times. Because it’s a tribute to the traditional Breton dance in eight-time, this kind of biscuit is better known as a Gavotte. Gavottes can also be chocolate flavoured or there is a salted version that can be eaten with an aperitif.

 


Breton sweet treats

Salted caramel

Henri Leroux, a chocolate maker from Quiberon, devised the recipe for a highly successful confectionery. Walnuts, hazelnuts and crushed almonds were added to the semi-salted butter and that was it: CBS® was born and, in 1980, it won the prize for France’s best sweet. There have been many variations on the recipe since then: you can eat them as sweets, as a topping for pancakes or ice cream … or just eat them with a spoon!

Niniches

Brittany also has its own lollipops, known as niniches. In Quiberon, the Maison d’Armorine confectioner’s shop offers about 50 niniches based on original recipes involving caramel or fruit. In La Baule, soft, melting niniches on a wooden stick, available in 20 flavours and colours, have been on offer since 1974 at the Confiserie Manuel.

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