Breton Pastry Traditions
So far our blog has been mostly a travel log of all the fantastic places we’ve been.
But, as you can imagine, we’ve been eating and drinking with wild abandon. It’s all in the name of research!
First we have to address the “king of Breton pastries,” the Kouign Amann (which means butter cake in the Breton language). When I lived in Brittany 20 years ago, you might see them every now and again in markets, but it was really a specialty of one bakeshop in Douarnenez in the Finistère region.
We sampled quite a few during our 2 weeks in Brittany and I am very surprised to report that they were not all delicious. First, freshness is a key factor. Then you have to consider the quality of butter and the delicate balance of salty to sweet at play. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the shape had a huge impact on the texture. A great Kouign Amann has a crunchy caramel exterior and a meltingly buttery interior.
This is the “kouignette” bar at one of the many Georges Larnicol outlets in Brittany. They are formed in a spiral and come in a variety of flavors. They were pretty tasty, but I think that the spiral shape allows too much steam to escape during the baking. Most of the spiral kouign amanns that we tasted were on the dry side. The traditional folding up of the edges method is not as attractive, but yields a more delicious product, in my humble opinion.
Another butter based cake is the Gateau Breton. It’s kind of a giant blondie without so much sugar. Filled or plain, they are simple, satisfying and highly caloric!
The Far Breton is also quite buttery, but more custard-like and less salty. Good far breton is light and melts in your mouth. Bad far breton has the texture of a rubber tire. These are very good far breton!
And of course, you can’t forget the Breton butter cookie. It seems like every town has a “biscuiterie” and I think we stopped at all of them. It’s fun to go these cookie factory outlet stores and load up on super cheap biscuits!
Here’s the factory of the famous Gavottes. You may not know the name, but your know the cookie. If you have ever had one of our hazelnut branches, it’s the crispy “feuilletine” texture.
The original “feuilletine” product was actually just broken gavottes cookies from the factory. They became so popular as a pastry and chocolate ingredient, that they are now made in flake form by larger companies like Barry-Callebaut.
Another super famous Breton sweet is Caramel au Beurre Salé. First created by master chocolatier Henri LeRoux of Quiberon in the 1970’s to highlight the amazing salted butter of Brittany, it has now taking over the world. Here’s a tower of jars at the Maison Georges Larnicol.
Caramel au beurre salé is the perfect base to pair with almost any flavor. I’ve been collecting them as we travel around getting ready for a giant taste test when we get home. Can’t wait to compare them to the caramels I’ve been making at the shop!