For many people, 2012 is The Year of the Dragon. For me, 2012 has been The Year of All Things French. This comes as a pleasant surprise for me because until recently I had very little interest in France (gasp!). I have a suspicion this may be due to my German and British roots—two countries that weren’t always on the friendliest of terms with France. Take a look at what’s been keeping me busy these past six months, however, and there’s no denying that 2012 is for me The Year of All Things French: Sam and I took a conversational French class; we’ve watched French movies, such as Pocket Money, Blame it on Fidel (my favorite one so far) and Rue Paradis 588; we’ve scouted out the French restaurants in SF; and I’ve read books about France and French culture, including an excellent book of essays about Paris and Parisians, Paris, Paris, a Rick Steeve’s guide to Paris and David Lebovitz’s memoir of his life as a San Franciscan in Paris, The Sweet Life in Paris.
It was The Sweet Life in Paris that held the recipe for these Petite Breton Buckwheat Gâteaux. (Strictly speaking, I made them petite with my little tart pans; the recipe calls for making one large cake.) Ever since I first baked with buckwheat flour when I made Poppyseed Buckwheat Wafers last year, I have been enamored of its nutty flavor. When I found this recipe, I thought it would be a great way to try another buckwheat flour recipe and that the cake would travel well on the always-crowded bus to my French class potluck. It was a success on both accounts. The cake is dense, slightly sweet and has a lovely pop from the sea salt flakes on top. One of the things that sets the cake apart as truly European is the egg yolk glaze, which gives the cake a glossy appearance when cooked. Don’t wait for a special occasion to make this cake; it would be delicious any afternoon of the week with a cup of tea or coffee.
In case the name of the recipe is bit inscrutable, don’t worry, your resident French scholar is here to translate: Breton is the French word for the Brittany region in northern France, which is known for its buckwheat crepes, and Gâteau is the French word for cake. As for the recipe itself, I decided not to include it here because (1) I don’t have permission to reprint it and (2) the original recipe was so good that I thought adapting it or “making it my own” would detract from it. David Lebovitz did a great job with this cake, and he deserves full credit. But don’t worry—I won’t leave you hanging high and dry. The recipe is also available on Heidi Swanson’s blog, 101 Cookbooks, where she had permission to reprint the recipe.
If you click over to 101 Cookbooks and read the ingredient list for the cake, you may notice that it does not call for a leavening agent, such as baking soda or powder. The second time I made this cake, I realized what causes the cake to rise: beating lots of air into the butter, sugar, and eggs. When the recipe says to beat the butter, sugar and eggs until really airy, beat them longer than you think you should. And of course, using an electric mixer will save your arms (and your sanity).