Sablés bretons – Breton shortbread biscuits

The sablé breton – literally “Breton sand biscuit” in reference to its short, crumbly, sand-like texture – is an old traditional biscuit from the French Brittany/Normandy region: the glorious land of salted butter! History teaches us that in 1341, King Philip VI of France introduced a national tax on salt, the “Gabelle of salt”, that suddenly made salt very expensive throughout the country. If salt remained used to conserve fresh ingredients, salted butter became a luxurious product that peasants could not longer afford to make… Brittany however was not only exempt from this tax, it was also a region producing its own salt. Quickly, salted butter became a regional speciality, sought after and sold in the rest of the country. Up until now, Breton salted butter is the best you can buy (along with Guerande sea-salted butter: with its natural sea salt flakes, I could eat the whole thing on fresh baguette in one seating).

The sablé breton  (also known as galette bretonne) is a simple and rustic biscuit that goes wonderfully well with a cup of tea or afternoon coffee. The salted butter balances the sugar, making the biscuit light but also very moorish – you’ve been warned!

This was my first attempt at making them and I must say I was very pleased with the finished product. They were delicious and their texture was perfect. *Patting myself on the back for resisting the temptation to keep kneading the dough past the stage where it forms a ball*. The only thing I might change in the future is the thickness: as they cooked, the biscuits expanded a little bit, which made them thinner than I would have wished. I might also try and be a little bit more creative with the top of the biscuit in the future: a criss-cross pattern would look good and rustic. Well, any good excuse to make them again!

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Recipe for +/- 30 biscuits
Ingredients
  • 320 gr. flour
  • 120 gr. caster sugar
  • 1 drop vanilla extract
  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 200 gr. melted salted butter (ideally French or even Breton but I might be purist)
  • Optional: a lemon zest
  • Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
Method:
  1. Pre-heat a fan oven oven to 150 C. Line a large flat baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour and caster sugar) in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the 2 egg yolks, the melted butter, the vanilla extract (and, if using, the lemon zest).
  4. Knead and form a ball. This is where you want to be extra careful not to overwork the dough: just gather it into a ball and put it down.
  5. Cover with clean cling film and place in the fridge to rest for an hour.
  6. Roll the cold dough between two sheets of baking paper to a thickness of about 3-5 mm. I did 5mm and it was a bit too thin to my taste, so I will probably go up to 6-8mm next time.
  7. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter (diam. 7 cm) and place on a baking tray, leaving enough room for the biscuits to expand a little bit.
  8. Brush the biscuits with the egg wash. Sprinkle iced sugar using a sieve.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes. You don’t want too much colour on these, sablés bretons are a very light golden colour.

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Pecans and raisins bread and butter pudding

Some weeks ago, I enrolled a course to become an independent art curator (exciting!). It’s keeping me very busy, with classes all Saturdays and research and homework during the week. I’m loving it. And, bizarrely (or not), because I have less free time, I organise it way better! As a result, I have been cooking and baking much more than previously.

Last Sunday, for example, our dear friends visited us one last time before moving out of London and down to the seaside. These two like their food so we wanted to make something extra special for them. Special but unfussy – some honest, homemade, no-nonsense winter comfort food. So I made my pecan and raisins bread & butter pudding!

Now, I say *MY* bread & butter pudding and this is not entirely true. I actually based it on a recipe from Lucy’s Food recipe book and adapted it to our taste. The original recipe has dried apricot and an apricot coulis, but I like my bread & butter pudding a little bit more traditional.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 12 slices of brioche
  • 60 grams of unsalted butter, at room temperature (spreading cold butter on brioche proved nearly impossible and extremely frustrating for short-tempered me 🙂 )
  • 60 grams of pecan nuts, roughly chopped
  • 60 grams of raisins
  • 150 ml of double cream
  • 150 ml of semi-skimmed milk
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 30 grams of caster sugar
  • 30 grams of cane sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • fresh nutmeg, or cinnamon, or cardamon to taste.

METHOD

  • Pre-heat oven to 190C (gas mark 5).
  • Spread the brioche slices with butter.
  • Layer into an ovenproof dish with the pecans and raisins.
  • In a bowl, mix the cream, milk, eggs, caster sugar and grate a little fresh nutmeg. Depending on the mood and season, you can also add a little cinnamon and cardamon to the eggy cream mixture.
  • Pour the mixture over the brioche.
  • Sprinkle evenly with the cane sugar.
  • Bake in the oven for 40-45 min, or until the pudding has puffed up and the eggs are cooked through (you can check with a knife)

Serve warm with a little double cream.

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Yes, it’s that easy and that tasty!

I like this recipe because I find the brioche makes it a little bit less stodgy than regular bread and butter pudding, and the crunchy pecans give the pudding a nice contrast of textures. I wouldn’t go as far as to pretend it is a light pudding, but definitely lighter than bread and butter puddings I have had before! 😀

Blueberry and vanilla cake

I believe that you just cannot beat a Hummingbird Bakery cake. They are the most naughty and decadent recipes around. So much sugar, so much butter, so much eggs, so much of everything, they are incredibly indulging and – for the sake of your arteries – should be regarded as an exceptional treat rather than a weekly sweet. But for special celebrations, they really do the trick!

The other weekend was chipmuncher’s parents’ 60th birthday. All the food was made by professional caterers except for the puds cause, you know, us girls of the family kinda rock at baking. Chipmuncher’s sister made a chocolate cheesecake and a banoffee pie, his mum a lemon meringue and a tiramisu and I made this fruit tea loaf and a Hummingbird blueberry and vanilla cake.

This cake is supposed to be baked in a ring shaped tin. I didn’t have one so mine is just a regular cake shape.

The Hummingbird book recipe

Baby blueberry cake

Big blueberry cake

Here’s what you’ll need.

For the cake:

  • 350 gr. unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 350 gr. caster sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 450 gr. plain flour
  • 2 tbsp and 2 tsp baking powder
  • 280 ml soured cream
  • 250 gr. fresh blueberries (and extra to decorate)

For the frosting (careful, the below quantities are HALF what Hummingbird recommends to make for that cake. But I find it’s way enough):

  • 300 gr. icing sugar (I never sift mine, it’s just too messy. Same thing with flour, “nobody aint got time for that”.)
  • 50 gr. unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 125 gr. cream cheese (I love Philadelphia, could eat up the whole tub with a spoon)

And here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Preheat your oven to 170°C
  • In a freestanding electric mixer, put the butter and sugar and cream until mixture is light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla extract, flour and baking powder until all well mixed.
  • Add the soured cream and mix until your mixture is light and all completely blended together.
  • By hand now, gently stir in the blueberries.
  • Pour into the mould and bake for 40 minutes.
  • Once cooked, leave the cake to cool and turn out onto a cooling rack.
  • Make your frosting: beat the icing sugar and butter together with a whisk (you can use an electric whisk if you are not too scared about covering your whole kitchen in icing sugar, I prefer to do it by hand even if it takes a bit longer). Once blended, add all the cream cheese in one go and keep whisking until smooth and light (but not too much or it will become runny). Keep the frosting in the fridge if you are not going to ice your cake straightaway.
  • When the cake is completely cold (and only then, believe me you DON’T want to ice a warm cake. Ever!), put it on a serving plate, cover the top and sides with the cream cheese frosting and decorate with the leftover blueberries.

NB: I have the oldest freestanding mixer you could think of, that chipmuncher’s lovely mum gave me when we moved in a year ago. It only has an ON and OFF option and no security whatsoever, but it works and is good enough for this recipe. If that is not guarantee that this is the easiest recipe ever, I don’t know what you need.

Fruit tart with crème pâtissière

First of all, please people, it is called crème pâtissière (pronounced /pa.ti.siehr/) and NOT crème pâtisserie! Hearing this always makes me cringe, because it doesn’t make sense and it sounds silly. It’s easy to remember, “pâtisserie” is a noun (that qualifies a pastry itself or the shop where you buy pastries) and “pâtissière” is the adjective that qualifies anything pastry-related. Here, we are specifying the type of the cream, hence we need to use the adjective. There, it’s said, let’s move on. No I’m not grumpy, I am just a grammar freak…

This fruit tart is a classical and all-time French favourite. It’s easy to make when you have friends visiting, especially as the crème pâtissière can be made the day before and keeps well in the fridge, and it’s sure to please everyone: all you have to do is pick their favourite fruit!

Strawberry and blackberry fruit tart

Strawberry and blackberry fruit tart

First, the pastry: normally for a fruit tart, you should use a sweet shortcrust pastry (90 grams softened butter, 65 grams caster sugar, 3 egg yolks, 200 grams plain flour) but I used a rough-puff instead this time (250 grams butter at room temperature but not softened, 250 grams plain flour, 150 ml cold water, 1 tsp sea salt). It worked ok, so I guess it’s really up to you! Line your tin, cover with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake the pastry for 10-15 minutes in a 190c pre-heated oven (until it’s cooked through but hasn’t turned  golden yet) and allow to cool.

While the baked pastry cools down, make the crème pâtissière. You need:

  • 250 ml full fat milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 60 grams caster sugar
  • 25 grams plain flour
  • optional: 2 tbsp kirsch

(1) Place the milk, vanilla seeds and pods into a large saucepan and warm through.

(2) In a mixing bowl, place the egg yolks, sugar and flour and whisk until mixture becomes pale.

(3) Gradually add the warm milk and vanilla to the egg mixture and, once well mixed together, return to the pan.

(4) Cook on a low heat, constantly whisking, until the mixture thickens and reaches the wanted consistency. You want it thick enough to be scooped with a spoon.

(5) As soon as it reaches the right consistency, pour the cream into a clean bowl and place a circle or greaseproof paper, or cling film, on top of the mixture, to prevent a skin forming at the surface.

(6) If you choose to add kirsch to your crème pâtissière, do it once it has cooled down completely.

Fruit is glazed with warm apricot jam

Fruit is glazed with warm apricot jam

We can now assemble the tart!

(1) Put 4 tbsp of apricot jam in a saucepan with a little bit of water and warm through until liquid. Carefully brush the inside of the pastry case (this will stop any leakage of cream or fruit juices through any small cracks).

(2) Spoon your crème pâtissière into the pastry case and make sure it is equally distributed around the tart.

(3) Top the cream with sliced fruit. Here, I used strawberries and blackberries, but you could also have kiwis, raspberries, blueberries, anything you fancy (see the other tart I made earlier this year). To give your tart a more ‘rustic’ look, just throw your fruit in. I am a bit OCDed so I always have to line my fruit perfectly, but there’s no rule here…

(4) With the rest of the warm apricot jam mix, lightly glaze the fruit. This will not only make your tart shiny and appetising, but it will also prevent any oxidation if you don’t eat it all on the same day. Clever stuff.

This is delicious with a cup of Earl Grey. Or, a sweet dessert wine…

A fruit tart I had made before, with a different selection of fruit.

A fruit tart I had made before, with a different selection of fruit.