I sometimes wonder, given all the things I have to do on a daily basis, why I keep this blog up. I ask myself some questions, exploring the possibility that I’m perhaps not focusing my energy in the right direction…Should I be dissertating more? Spending more time exercising? Consuming less butter? But then I finally make something that’s long been on my list–a Far Breton–and I remember why I continue to blog. Not only do I get to make and share something delicious with you all, but I also get to create something with my hands. I leave abstract conversations about triangular desire, mediation and narrative tone behind; I no longer have to worry about explaining comma placement and proper use of the dash to my students. Either surrounded by silence (lovely, lovely silence after a day of noise!) or listening, in the background, to some podcast (I’m currently loving The Splendid Table), I allow the chaos of the day to fade away. It’s peaceful, happy and simple. Just like this dessert.

I first heard of the Far Breton, a dessert from the Brittany region of France, this past February on some cold morning when I woke up early to do some work on my dissertation. As often happens when this task is at the top of my list, opening the .doc file becomes a Herculean task, so I’ll skim the newspaper, check to see if any of my favorite blogs have been updated and, if they have, I’ll engage in fantasies of the various meals and treats to come. The Far Breton automatically grabbed me; I think due to my love of thick puddings and custards…and things that can be carefully dusted with powdered sugar so that it looks like there was the gentlest of snow storms on top of it. Plus, it has the density of a tart, although without the crust since it’s essentially a flan–and one studded with prunes.

Yes, I’m on a prune kick. Maybe you think prunes are a little gross; in America at least, they have long been unjustly stigmatized. But, really, prunes are quintessentially French. You can eat them with sausage, or both in or as dessert. For me, that’s a good enough reason to eat them at all. You get the best of both worlds. Not to mention something that’s sweet, sticky and changes the whole flavor of a meal–and for the better at that.

Far Breton

Yields 8 slightly sweet and custard-cream slices

Adapted from Beatrice Peltre (La Tartine Gourmande) for The Boston Globe

I decided to make the dessert a little more “exotic”, rather than traditional; since the recipe didn’t call for any spice or flavor,  I worried a bit about it being too simple. I decided to take a risk and add both vanilla bean and a heaping teaspoon of ground cardamom. I loved the soft smokiness of its flavor and the way the cardamom gleamed in the custard.

Butter for the baking dish
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
1 pinch of salt
1/4 inch piece of vanilla bean, cut open and scraped out
1 heaping tsp. ground cardamom
2 cups 1% milk (this is what I keep on hand; I’m sure that whole milk would have produced a richer custard)
2 Tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. rum
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted
4 eggs
1 cup pitted prunes
Powdered sugar, for serving

-Preheat the oven to 350,  butter a baking dish or springform pan (this is what I used), arrange the prunes on its bottom and and set aside.
-In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, salt, cardamom and vanilla together. Make a well in the center.
-Whisk in the eggs until the batter is smooth.
-Stir in the melted butter, rum and milk.
-Pour the batter over the prunes.
-Place in the oven and bake for about 40-45 minutes (if you use a springform pan, make sure to set a baking dish underneath or you, like me, will need to clean the oven), or until the custard is set and the top is golden brown.
-Remove from heat and set on a rack to cool.
-Cut yourself a slice and have a little taste of France.

3 thoughts on “Feeling like a Francophile

  1. Yum! Your writing is so beautiful! I love the idea of the delicate snowfall on top of the cake 🙂 I have to say: never stop cooking and blogging and doing things that you love! I know how the dissertation/teaching crunch goes, but I think if we don't give ourselves little treats (whether it is sleeping in or baking or going for a long walk), then we will quickly go crazy. I have always admired your ability to find joy in the little things and to make time for yourself. You are a great inspiration!

  2. Thank you! And I agree wholeheartedly with your wise words…I just get worried sometimes when I realize that 24 hours aren't enough (not that double that would be enough either)!

    And, after hours of writing on Blok, I also liked the thought of a “snowfall cake.” It's nice to blog because it reminds that I *do* like writing. There's almost nothing better than a fine turn of phrase.

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