Gâteau Breton. A fabulous Butter Cake from France.
I went wild over this cake when I tasted it for the first time at Bell’s, a French bistro in Los Alamos, California. Its butteriness and shortbread-like texture are what made me an instant fan. How can a cake with only four ingredients be so good? It’s the quality of the butter you use. Common supermarket brands are 80% butterfat, the lowest allowed by the USDA. But if you seek out brands such as Kerrygold, Plugra, Strauss, or Horizon, their butterfats range from 82% to 85%. Remember, fat carries flavor!
This cake is amazingly easy to make by hand, with an electric mixer, or in a food processor. Egg yolks hold the batter together. An egg yolk glaze, raked with the tines of a fork, give the cake a decoration and a beautiful burnished look.
This butter cake from Brittany is easy to make with a food processor, an electric mixer, or completely by hand. I’ve written complete directions for all three methods. If using unsalted butter instead of salted, add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the dry ingredients. You’ll need an 8 x 2-inch round metal pan. If you have an 8-inch layer cake pan it will work perfectly. The vanilla in the recipe is my addition.
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned into a 1-cup dry measure to overflowing and leveled with a straight edge; 9 ounces by weight)
8 ounces (2 sticks) salted or unsalted butter, refrigerator temp or slightly softened, depending on method
1 cup sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
1. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the cake pan and line the bottom with a round of cooking parchment or waxed paper. No need to butter the paper.
2. To make the dough in a food processor, put the flour and sugar into the work bowl. Process 5 seconds to combine. Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the work bowl. Pulse about 5 times for 1 second each to cut the butter into small pieces no larger than 1/4-inch or so. Add 5 egg yolks and the vanilla and pulse rapidly 10 to 15 times (more or less) until a stiff dough comes together. Remove the dough from the machine and work it briefly between your hands to form a thick disk. If the dough sticks at all, flour your hands very lightly. Put the dough into the prepared pan and set a piece of plastic wrap over it. Press on the plastic to spread the dough into the pan. It should be evenly thick and reach right to the pan edge. Refrigerate about 20 minutes.
3. If using an electric mixer, cut the slightly softened butter into tablespoon-size pieces and put them into a medium bowl with the sugar. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes on medium speed until well mixed but not fluffy. Add 5 egg yolks and the vanilla and beat on medium speed about 1 minute, until completely incorporated. With a wooden spoon, gradually stir in the flour to make a stiff dough. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and set a piece of plastic wrap over it. Press on the plastic to spread the dough into the pan. It should be evenly thick and reach right to the pan edge. Refrigerate about 20 minutes.
4.To make Gâteau Breton by hand, put the flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl and stir to mix. Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the bowl. Chop the butter into the flour and sugar with a pastry blender or two knives until the texture is like coarse crumbs. Add 5 egg yolks and the vanilla and mix in with a wooden spoon to form a thick dough. Put the dough into the prepared pan and set a piece of plastic wrap over it. Press on the plastic to spread the dough into the pan. It should be evenly thick and reach right to the pan edge. Refrigerate about 20 minutes.
5. To bake the Gâteau Breton, mix the last yolk and 1 teaspoon water in a small cup well with a fork. Remove the plastic wrap from the chilled cake and use a pastry brush to coat the top of the cake with the egg yolk. You may not have to use all the yolk. Try not to let any yolk run between the cake and the side of the pan. With a table fork, score the top of the Gâteau Breton in criss-crossing parallel lines.
6. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake is a rich golden brown color. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the sides of the Gâteau to release, and unmold it onto the rack. Peel off the paper, cover with another rack, and invert to cool right side up. Wait a few hours before serving for the cake’s texture to compose itself.
Makes one 8-inch round cake, about 10 servings.
19 thoughts on “Gâteau Breton. A fabulous Butter Cake from France.”
I, too, had this cake at Bell’s in Los Alamos on March 1st and fell in love with it. I’m so excited that you posted a recipe on your blog for this amazing cake and can’t wait to make it (and, of course, eat it).
How amazing we both ate at Bell’s! Happy Baking!
Always love your recipes Greg! Wish you were my mentor!
Thanks, Katy, for your kind words.
This piece is so exciting, I’m going to run out and buy myself some Kerrygold right now and make the cake!
You will love this, Julia! Food processor method is by far the easiest.
I LOVE BRETON CAKE! We have a wonderful little French Bakery in Pittsburgh and Breton Cakes are always stacked on the counter begging to be purchased! I have a pretty good recipe I’ve used, but will definitely give this one a go—with high fat butter! I know it will be good—LOVE your date bars, and we see eye-to-eye on Hepburn’s brownies which I’ve been making for 40 plus years!
Thanks so much for writing, Patti. Always glad to meet a kindred spirit, and Breton Cake lover.
We are from Pittsburgh but living in Florida and every time we go gone we go that same bakery you mentioned and get one to eat and one to fly home with us. So looking forward to trying your recipe.
Hi Mr. Patent –
Yes, it’s true. The Gâteau Breton is a wonderful cake. And so easy in the food processor. Thank you.
And “Thank You” for writing the cookbook, a Baker’s odyssey- a gift to us from our Missoula family. You’ve had an adventurous life. Regards, Mary
Thank you so much for writing, Mary.
Thank you, Mary. Many thanks for writing.
This cake is absolutely delicious. Enough said.
We, too, the cake at Bell’s just one week ago. Formidable!. I’m making it tomorrow with a splash of Grand Mariner. Stay tuned.
My mother was from Brittany and taught me to make this cake when I was a child. My family loves it.
Had the gateau breton at Bell’s too. The perfect desert for me. Could have sworn there was a hint of almond in it.
I didn’t detect almond, but it’s possible a bit of extract had been added in your gateau.
Another person finding your blog because of the Gateau Breton at Bell’s. Although now that cake is a one Michelin star cake 🙂
Welcome to my blog! Bell’s is a great restaurant.