Far Breton/Near Breton/Nearly Breton
Although there is often a stack of cookbooks on my nightstand for bedtime reading, much of my food curiosity comes from fiction. I first heard of Far Breton when a character in Kate Atkinson’s latest novel fondly recalled the dish. A Google search led to David Lebovitz’s recipe, where I learned that the secret to Far Breton is soaking the prunes in Armagnac. As Lebovitz himself puts it, “you could soak a funky, wellworn sock in Armagnac, and it would taste like the best thing on earth.”
Prunes have this reputation, at least in North America, for not being terribly sexy. Let’s get over that. Soaking them in brandy makes a fine start.
Edible Vancouver & Wine Country’s budget doesn’t quite stretch to Armagnac, which is sharp-intake-of-breath pricey. Besides, as a magazine that celebrates local food and drink, I felt duty bound to try harder. After all, the prunes can be local. The eggs, cream, and butter, no problem. So this version calls for BC-made fruit brandy—does that make it Near Breton?
And then, I confess, I so love the combination of prunes and chocolate that I couldn’t resist adding a layer of chocolate to one version, which I’m sure will win me a few emails of complaint from people accusing me of bastardizing a classic dish from Brittany. Which is why I’m calling that one Nearly Breton.
If you have a trust fund and wish to keep the dessert authentic, go ahead and try it with Armagnac—or at least Cognac. And leave out the chocolate.
PS I actually do know that in Brittany, far is a word for flan, but I had fun with the wordplay.
Makes one 10-inch cake
- ⅓ cup Okanagan Spirits Old Italian Prune or Pemberton Distillery Aged Apple Brandy
- 2 cups pitted prunes
- 2 cups whole milk (please don’t use skim; this is dessert, after all)
- 4 large eggs
- ¾ cup flour
- ½ cup icing sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup salted butter, melted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
In a small saucepan, heat the liquor. Add prunes, and stir for a minute or two, letting the prunes plump up with the alcohol. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand overnight.
In a blender or food processor, mix the milk, eggs, flour, sugars, melted butter, vanilla, and salt. Blend until smooth and refrigerate for at least four hours, ideally overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Prepare a 10-inch baking dish or cake pan, round or square, with butter and flour. Scatter the boozy prunes (and ½ cup of semi-sweet chocolate chunks or buttons, if you wish to make Nearly Breton) in the bottom of the baking dish.
Stir the custard and pour it over the prunes. Bake until light brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool, and slice to serve.