Monday, 20 December 2010

Gâteau Breton with Dates and Chocolate

The December We Should Cocoa challenge is being hosted by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog and she's chosen dates as the ingredient to combine with chocolate. I use dates in some cakes but not usually with chocolate and I wasn't sure what to do until my good lady wife suggested a Gâteau Breton. Although this gateau is very often plain, some people prefer it with a filling such as apples or prunes soaked in armagnac. So I put together a date and chocolate filling instead, which may look unpromising (or even faintly disgusting) but I assure you it tastes good. You don't even have to buy expensive whole dates for this – simple chopped dates will do fine, as long as they're nice ones. Actually, we did buy some whole dates, but then we ate them.

There are a lot of rules about how the authentic Gâteau Breton should be made and I don't seem to stick to all of them; but then neither do all the apparently authoritative recipes I've seen. Two rules I do stick to, though, are that there should always be the same weight of sugar as butter and that the butter has to be salted. I'm reliably informed that using unsalted butter in a Gâteau Breton would be one of the worst thing you could do in Brittany – roughly the equivalent of walking into a bar in Quimper and announcing that you don't like bagpipes.

Gateau Breton
You could make the filling the day before and keep it in the fridge until needed. Bring it back to room temperature before using, though.

For the filling:
     100 g chopped dates
     140 ml water
     1 tbsp dark rum
     1 tbsp dark brown soft sugar
     a knob of butter
     20 g plain chocolate, broken into small pieces
For the gateau:
     225 g salted butter, softened and cut into pieces
     225 g golden caster sugar
     300 g plain flour, sieved
     1 tbsp calvados (not essential but I add it for luck)
     5 egg yolks
     1 egg white

First, make the filling. Put the dates, water, rum and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently with plenty of stirring until the mixture starts to look like a paste (a spoon dragged through it should leave a clear trail on the bottom of the pan). Take off the heat and stir in the butter and chocolate. Keep stirring until both have dissolved. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Thoroughly grease a 20 cm cake tin (it needs to be about 5 cm deep). If you happen to have a mixer with a paddle attachment standing round doing nothing then it will make the following gateau-beating process a lot easier.

Cream the butter and sugar thoroughly. Lightly beat the egg yolks, remove a scant tablespoonful and set this aside for glazing the top of the gateau. Add half of the remaining egg yolks to the butter and sugar and beat in, then do the same with the other half of the yolks and the calvados. Finally add the flour and beat in until everything looks nice and smooth.

Put half of the mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out as flat as reasonably possible – a combination of a palette knife and fingers works best for me. Spread the filling over the mixture evenly but avoid going right up to the edges. Cover with the other half of the mixture making the top as flat and smooth as possible. Lightly beat the egg white and paint over the top of the gateau – you probably won't need it all. Now paint with the reserved egg yolk – add a tiny amount of water if the yolk is too thick to spread. At this point, it's traditional to mark the top of the gateau with a pattern using the tines of a fork.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes – the top should be a deep golden brown. Allow to cool a fair bit before removing carefully from the tin. Quite small slices are probably the order of the day – this is pretty rich.

Gateau Breton

Monday, 6 December 2010

Lemon Ground Rice Pudding and Croquants de Corde

I remember with something close to horror eating strange puddings made with ground rice as a kid. But in my defence I should point out that cooking as we know it today hadn't been invented then and food was mostly hit with sticks until it gave up. There are ground rice puddings from many parts of the world flavoured with a vast range of lovely things such as rosewater, orange flower water or cardamom as well as good old vanilla, so I thought I should try making some myself. It turns out that everyone else was right and they're very comforting. This pudding will be even more silky and luxurious if you add some cream, of course, but I'm trying to be a little healthy.

Rice Pudding and Croquants
The croquants are the traditional biscuit from the beautiful town of Cordes-sur-Ciel in the Tarn. The recipe dates back to the 17th century so I've tried Cordes-sur-Cielto restrain myself from mucking about with it too much. La Fête du Croquant is held in Cordes-sur-Ciel every June, which sounds like an excellent opportunity to eat too many biscuits. (For some reason we never seem to want to have a Festival of the Digestive or the Rich Tea  in the UK.) The croquants aren't usually served with English rice pudding, of course, but I don't have any decent Gaillac wine to hand.

The quantities here should give you 2 generous portions of rice pudding (or maybe 4 refined portions) and around 16 croquants, but that will depend on how big you want to make them. The croquants will keep well in an airtight tin.

Lemon Ground Rice Pudding
Handful of raisins (the large, juicy kind ideally)
2 tsp limoncello
50 g ground rice
570 ml (OK, I mean a pint) full-fat milk
30 g caster sugar
½ tsp lemon extract

Soak the raisins in the limoncello for at least ½ hour before you start.

Mix the rice with around 100 ml of the milk and add this mixture to the rest of the milk in a saucepan. Bring to the boil with a lot of stirring. Once it reaches boiling point, simmer gently for around 7 minutes making sure that you continue to stir frequently. By this time the mixture should have thickened a fair bit, without becoming solid.

Stir in the sugar, lemon extract and the raisins with any remaining limoncello. Keep cooking gently (and stirring) for 2 -3 minutes. Spoon into serving dishes and chill until needed.

Croquants de Cordes
Croquants de Cordes
220 g granulated sugar
50 g plain flour
2 egg whites – just as they come from the shell, don't beat them
100 g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Mix the flour and sugar together. Mix in the egg whites – the best way is to just work these in with your fingers. (This is pleasingly messy). Once this mixture has come together add the almonds and work these in as well.

Line a couple of flat oven trays with either silicone sheets or non-stick baking parchment. Plop something like tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking trays. You don't need to flatten the piles of mixture, but make sure you leave a fair amount of room between them since they will spread out as they cook. Bake for 12 – 16 minutes or until the tops are light brown – be careful that they don't get too dark.

Remove from the oven but don't try to remove them from the trays until they're cold or nearly cold – they will stick to pretty much everything while they're hot.

Cordes-sur-Ciel