Wait for It: Gâteau Breton

On a recent evening when I wanted to bake something but was not in the mood to go to the store, I browsed my cookbooks for a recipe I could make with ingredients I had on hand. Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for Gâteau Breton caught my eye. It's an almond cake, and I love almonds. And I already had everything I needed to make the cake... well, almost.

Beranbaum says that "the success of this recipe depends on the best-quality high-fat butter," and she endorses Organic Valley European-Style Cultured Butter (84% butterfat), Vermont cultured butter (86% butterfat), or Plugra (82% butterfat) for the recipe. I don't normally maintain a supply of European butter (and when I do, Plugra is my usual choice), so all I had was my usual Land O' Lakes (80% butterfat). I decided to give the recipe a try anyway. After all, despite her cheerleading for European butter, Beranbaum says that "with lower butterfat butter the finished texture is just as good."

The recipe is pretty straightforward. You cream room-temperature butter with sugar; add in egg yolks one at a time; incorporate toasted ground almonds, more sugar, salt, vanilla, and kirsch; and slowly add flour. You scrape the batter into a cake pan (or fluted tart pan), brush the top with beaten egg, draw a crosshatch design with a fork, and bake.
I baked the cake for slightly longer than specified (the recipe says 35-45 minutes, but I baked it for 50), and it came out of the oven with a nice golden, shiny top, and the crosshatches still clearly visible. When I took a bite, the cake was bland and tasted just like an almond cookie from a Chinese bakery -- and I don't think Chinese almond cookies are all that great. It was disappointing.

But this cake got better with age. On day two, it was more buttery and moist. Beranbaum notes that the cake "is most cakelike on day one, but it progressively approaches the shortbread spectrum and is still excellent even after a week at room temperature." By day three, I was quite sad we were running low on cake.

I have a Hazelnut Gâteau Breton recipe that I love, and I happened to make it a few days after I made Beranbaum's almond version. When I tasted the two cakes side by side, I definitely liked the hazelnut version better. It's got a more solid, satisfying texture. But I do really like Beranbaum's Gâteau Breton as well -- and there are definitely advantages to having recipes that can be made in advance and that actually improve with age!

Recipe: "Gâteau Breton" from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Previous Post: "Stoked to Have Yolks: Hazelnut Gâteau Breton," September 21, 2012.