Un Goût De La Bretagne
We’re going to Bretagne soon, and I can’t wait. Since we have a friend who’s originally Bretonne, and she has friends who just returned from a vacation there, yesterday seven of us celebrated all things Brittany while having a delicious foretaste of our upcoming journey. We were greeted at the door by the virgin that guards the house. She’s the one on the right, as you might have guessed.
The table was set with the beautiful faïence from Henriot, which has been making pottery in Quimper since the end of the 17th century. We’ll be spending a couple of days in Quimper, and I’m already plotting how to bring some home with me, although they’re no longer making anything like these lovely old pieces.
Lunch was an awe-inspiring procession of courses and small bites. Here, a starter of slices of andouille de Guéméné, which is a Breton sausage made of rolled pork intestines, and bites of buckwheat galettes filled with rillettes of pork. With this, a kir Breton, made with cider, and refreshingly delicate.
There were grilled sardines served, amazingly, with a mayonnaise made with butter instead of olive oil. Bretagne is famous for its butter, and its love of butter, but I have to confess that butter mayonnaise is something I’d never have imagined. It’s delicious and you should try it sometime. Just make your mayonnaise as usual, but use gently melted and cooled butter instead of oil. If you can get fresh sardines to go with it, so much the better, but I think it would be startlingly good with any fish.
There were scallops in a beurre blanc sauce with lots of shallots, one of the best things I’ve tasted in recent memory.
Doesn’t that look exquisite? I plan to beg for the recipe, since I’m sure I can’t live without tasting it again. And because seafood rules Bretagne, there were also fresh briny oysters that slid down our throats so fast that you’ll just have to imagine them.
The buttery crispy galettes made another appearance, this time wrapped around a grilled sausage,
and here’s a course of the vegetables for which Bretagne is known, cauliflower and artichokes. In butter, of course.
There was a palate cleansing shot of lait ribot, the Breton version of buttermilk. There was far Breton, a sort of prune flan, served with tiny pitchers of cream, and a beguiling little custard of salted butter caramel. And then, after reveling in all of our friend’s carefully prepared dishes, it was time for my contributions. Which, naturally, were made largely of butter.
I’ve been waiting for ages for a good excuse to make kouign aman. Its name means simply “butter cake,” although it’s tricky and fussy to produce, which is why it’s taken me so long to try it out. Using David Lebovitz’s recipe, I bravely launched myself into the buttery dough. My first effort was a dentist’s dream, a bridgework-endangeringly caramelized cake, so crunchy that it could only be eaten while it was hot and semi-molten. My second try, baked in a slower oven than the recipe recommends, produced the cake on the right. It’s worth making, my friends, it’s so worth making. Just remember that not all ovens are the same, and watch your cake carefully as it transforms itself from a sticky dough ball into a rich golden treat.
I also made the cake on the left, as a backup. It’s a gateau Breton, another sort of, you guessed it, butter cake. There are a ton of recipes out there for this cake, and believe me, I read them all. But in the end I wasn’t very happy with the result, which was crumbly and scratchy to eat. I’m hoping that it will improve with age, as its reputation suggests, and have a piece wrapped up to test the theory.
So there you have it, a beautiful example of Breton hospitality. As I think they say in Bretagne “A bep liv marc’h mat, A bep bro tud vat. ” Which I believe means basically “good horses come in all colors, and good people come from all places.” And now, more than ever, I’m looking forward to experiencing the good people and the good life of Bretagne. And a few horses wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
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