Far for the Soul

Far Breton 

January, you make it hard for me to like you.

You come blowing in with your icy winds that howl around our rickety old windowpanes like angry ghosts, and your horizontal rain that stings like tiny icicles shot from the barrel of a gun. You bring darkness that lingers on the edge of the horizon all day, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness from the sun. You bring no vacations to anticipate, no signs of Spring to herald, no reasons to rejoice. And worst of all – you make me hungry, and then you tell me not to eat.

Yes, I know I am as much to blame as you for falling into your trap, but once again I have embraced you as the month of betterment, repentance, and denial. That’s right, I have believed your magazine spin-doctors and your lifestyle gurus that tell me that the only thing standing between me and eternal health, happiness and a smaller swimsuit size is a little bit of self-discipline. So fueled by the guilt of Christmas and those oddly compelling things called ‘resolutions’, I have banished the fat and the sugar, the cream and cheese and chocolate from my life; I have reacquainted myself with that place called ‘gym’ and started running to it every time the urge to sink my mixer into a stick of butter threatens to overwhelm me. But even in my attempts to follow your path of righteousness you punish me, January, as it seems you have lead everyone and his uncle along the exact same path to that gym, and the only rewards I am given for my virtuousness are long wait times and the singular sensation of sweating in a sardine can.

But I still persist in believing that these sacrifices will be worth it in the end – which shows the terrifying extent of your power over me – and so I keep at it, battling the Lycra crowds, reinventing vegetables in every way possible, trying to make friends with cottage cheese and lowfat mayonnaise. Sometimes, though, no matter how steely I try to keep it, my resolve weakens, and on these dark days I wake up feeling that if I don’t cram my oven and my belly full of as much sugar, butter and vanilla as they will hold, I cannot be held responsible for the heinous crimes I will commit.

Luckily, January, I’m more clever than you think.

You see, I have a new trick up my sleeve, a sweet, tempting trick that satisfies the belly and the oven without the kind of long-term of damage to resolve this usually entails. It tastes gloriously rich and indulgent, its silky not-quite-custard-but-not-quite-cake texture interrupted here and there by fragrant little drunken fruits; its homely exterior offering no hint as to the sophistication inside. It also happens to have a funny little name, and an exotic pedigree which facilitates fabulous workplace daydreams involving craggy cliffs, quaint stone villages and ancient Celtic tongues. But most importantly, although under normal circumstances I am pathologically allergic to finding the word ‘diet’ and ‘dessert’ together in one place, I must point out that the relative paucity of naughty things in this particular little number means that when the last delicious crumb has been inhaled and the damages are tallied, the resolve, not to mention all those plans for self-improvement, are not so hard to put solidly back on track.

So, January, since you won’t be sticking around long enough to see whether all the promises and pipe dreams you’ve given me come true, I’ll just have to let you know next year. In the meantime, however, I’ve realized that even though you’ll hardly find me mourning your departure next week, I’m not feeling nearly as resentful of you as I expected — proof, no doubt, that a little Far Breton does wonders for our relationship.

Far Breton

I’m not sure what category of desserts this delicious and very traditional creation from Brittany belongs in – is it a cake or a custard? It’s certainly firm enough to slice and goes great with a cup of coffee, but its dense, smooth texture almost feels like something you should be licking off a spoon. Never mind, just give it a try – it’s really easy, really good and remarkably light. The traditional version calls for it to be studded with prunes soaked in brandy; actually Dorie’s recipe calls for raisins as well, which I left out – if you’re a raisin lover just add 1/3 cup to the pan with the prunes, and, oh, do your best to find those incredible French Agen prunes…they’re what quickly got me over my aversion to these poor, maligned fruits. I must say, though, that after trying it the ‘right’ way once the wheels are spinning on all the potential delicious variations out there. I know, I know, you don’t need to tell me I’m an abomination to authenticity! Dried cherries soaked in amaretto are at the top of my list to try next, for example, and maybe after that dried pears with sweet sherry. Authentic or not, though, this is sure to become a wintertime staple in our house.

Serves: 8
Source: slightly adapted from Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan 

2 cups (500ml) whole/full-fat milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup (110g) sugar
5 tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (105g) all purpose flour

1 cup, packed (200g) pitted prunes (preferably pruneaux d’Agen)
1/2 cup (125ml) water
4 tablespoons (60ml) Armagnac or other brandy…or any other booze

Powdered/icing sugar, for dusting

Combine the milk, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in blender jar and blend for 1 minute. Add the flour and pulse just until blended, scraping down the sides of the jar. Cover and chill in the jar or in another container at least 3 hours and up to 1 day (I actually missed this part and only had 1 1/2 hours to let it chill, to no obvious detriment).

Combine the prunes and water in a heavy small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the fruit is softened and water is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the prunes to a small bowl (discard any liquid remaining). Pour the brandy over, cover and cool completely.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375F/190C. Butter an 8-inch-diameter (20cm) cake pan with 2-inch-high sides (I think a 9-inch pan would also be just fine). Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter the paper. Dust the pan with flour, shaking out the excess; place it on the baking sheet.

Whisk the batter to reblend, tap it a couple of times on the counter to pop any large air bubbles, and pour it into the prepared cake pan (I actually whisked in the small amount of boozy liquid from the prunes before pouring the batter into the pan, since I couldn’t bear to waste it). Drop the prunes into the batter, distributing them as evenly as possible. Bake the far on the baking sheet until the top is puffed and brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour (mine took about 50 minutes, but I was using convection). Cool the far completely in its pan on a rack.

Place a piece of parchment or waxed paper on a flat plate. Sift some powdered sugar onto the paper. Run a knife around the far to loosen it. Invert the pan onto the paper, shaking gently if needed to release it. Peel off the paper. Place a serving plate over the far and invert. Dust the top with additional powdered sugar and serve at room temperature.


46 thoughts on “Far for the Soul

  1. Aaaaaah! Can you hear me shout from desperation? Dear Melissa, i feel exactly the same as you do about January.AND i really need a piece of this wonderful far breton. I mean RIGHT NOW!Your picture is just breathtaking and you’ll never hear me say enough good things about your witty wirting.Love- fanny

  2. Melissa,I love your post – couldn’t relate to it more! I’m also in this nonsense no-sugar-to-the-gym-(almost)no-more-baking-stupid-light-food routine and it sucks! The results take forever to show; on the other hand, the feeling of sending it all to outer space crosses my mind every hour of the day.This dessert sounds great and your photo is fantastic – are those lilacs?? They’re beautiful!

  3. Your photography is amazing! Do you mind if I ask what type of lens you use? I’m so glad I found your blog – and am anxious to try a few of your recipes! This cake/pudding is lovely – I am thinking of trying it out.

  4. Yesssss. This was one of my favorite snacks when I lived in Paris….those prunes, that custard. Lovely. Your photo, as always, is mouthwatering. And what is it about January and Bretagne? I’ve been eyeing a Breton butter cake in my files for over a week now…

  5. Oh Melissa it’s hot hot summer here and I also feel the call of that cake! I might try it with the last of the fresh cherries though.

  6. Mmmm, looks lovely. I think I am going to try this with raspberries. Don’t know why but they just appeal to me more than prunes. Might be something to do with the fact that I don’t like prunes much ;)I am also very very happy to have found a sweet not deliberately diet thing – I’m seeing so many sweet recipes on all the blogs at the moment, and really wondering how I’m ever going to recover the waistline so led astray by christmas.

  7. In Ohio, USA it is grey snow, raining, and blustery. The freshest ingredient I could muster to post about today is cauliflower. I think sugar would make me feel much better. Wine even better.

  8. As long as I’ve been baking I’ve never heard of this dessert–clafouti? Sure but not this and I’m dying to try it. I’m a big custard fan so custard-ish cake sounds like heaven. Found your blog on Food Blogga’s sidebar and love your prosaic lead-in to this recipe.

  9. Sorry, Melissa – I just can’t relate. Fasting and penence are the thugs of February and March; banished from my castle from Advent ’til Ash Wednesday morn, often chained and fettered for a day by the Bishop in honor of St. Pat, and kept as pets – for the most part – from Easter to the end of the church year. Here in the Pacific Northwet the cold rainy winter is too bleak for a soul’s own health. I delight in my January jesters: shoo-fly (treacle) pie and spiced coffee or mulled wine, or Auntie Maggi’s shortbread, and a wee dram of The Macallan – or two. By the looks of the Far Breton I’ll welcome it too – with a glass of calvados raised to your health.cheers – corey

  10. I think these flowers are "forget-me-not"s, but I’m not sure.this recipe look really good, but we don’t have whole milk here. how many percents of fat does whole milk have (as in g of fat per 100 g of product)?I would like to find a substitute for it.

  11. oh I think these flowers are actually a kind of lavender… (then again, I could be wrong)

  12. If you think it’s tough facing up to the post-Christmas extra kilos (and guilt) in Scotland, try dealing with them in Australia when they’re on display for all to see!!! Great looking cake…look forward to hearing how you go with the variations. All sound delicious!

  13. Melissa, I’m with you about banishing horrid January weather and the lousy outlook it brings. It’s -15C outside right now, and I too would love to run away from it all. Your dessert looks fabulous. Somewhere between a cake and a custard, the Far Breton reminds me of nothing so much as a brownie without the chocolate given the tiny amount of flour in it.

  14. Sounds delicious, Melissa, and yes, we all need a slightly more guilt-free dessert this time of a year. There’s no way I’ll find Agen prunes here, but I hope it’s delicious nevertheless..

  15. I came home the other night and my wife had made a kick ass cinnamon cake (she was asleep at the time). I swiped a small piece and found it to be SO good. The next morning I got up (she had already left for work) and the cake was GONE!! She brought it to school to share with her fellow teachers…dratz!!

  16. Ugh! I feel for you. I loathe the gym and would rather have my jeans be a bit snug and wait until the weather is more suitable for jogging around the neighborhood than subject myself to such an awful place. That said, if I had this lovely breton waiting for me when I got home, that would make the trip worthwhile.

  17. How bizarre! I made this cake years ago and didn’t think about it again until last week. I took my recipe from France:The Beautiful Cookbook.

  18. Hi Melissa ! What a surprise to see our traditional dessert on your blog ! It’s a dedication for the Far Breton !!!But please Melissa … no icing suggar on, pleeeease ! It’s tradition you see … I’ll give you the secret : first you have to put some rum,not Armagnac ! Second : just before to go in the oven, put some salt butter melted on the top, that’s the REAL Far !

  19. dear melissa, that looks completely divine…surely the ultimate antidote to anybody’s january (or any other month, for that matter) blues!

  20. The fab thing about eating butter, sugar, vanilla oh and the prunes is that it actually gives you the energy and motivation to go to the gym. That is my theory – right now I am still working on it – back to the butter, sugar and vanilla…

  21. Lovely essay and photo. I’ve been thinking about prunes, too, and wondering what to do with them. Yes, as Susan mentions above, you do make prunes look exciting. You are a gifted writer.

  22. A wonderful book, no? I had been looking at this recipe just before visiting here! It calls right out to me, as I am a large lover of prunes in general, and armagnac soaked prunes in particular. I’ve got a jar of same that I put up awhile ago. Think I’m going to open them and try a far breton.Yours looks gorgeous, as always.

  23. This is one of my fave gatronomic blogs. Beautiful and with an excelent choice of different subjects on food.

  24. Ha! WHAT A FANASTIC POST! And I must say that I could definitely go for a piece of that right now!(Ok, make it 2 pieces, please!)

  25. I made this recipe yesterday and I must say that even if is was absolutely delicious (and reminded me of something my Spanish grandmother used to to with leftover milk) I was a tiny bit disappointed. I only made one slight change in the recipe omitting the booze since my husband hates the taste of it in desserts (and I hate to eat on my own). The thing is that mine didn’t get as fluffy and photogenic as yours but turned out rather flat. It might be your photo making it look "higher" or it might be the fact that I used a 25cm cake pan. Or could it be something I did, or forgot to do?

  26. I just stumbled onto your wonderful blog (from a link at Perfect Pantry) and was stopped short by the vision of the Far Breton. It looks a lot like a dessert I had in Belgium thirty years ago and have been trying to find a recipe for ever since. The Belgian delicacy was called a Tart au Sucre and was exactly the consistency you describe- somewhere between custard and cake. I will definitely try this one and see if it triggers a Proustian response.

  27. Hi Maria – I’m sorry you were disappointed by the texture, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the size of your pan. I baked mine in a 20cm/8-inch cake pan, which made it quite thick, dense and creamy (not really fluffy at all, despite how the top might look). Maybe give it another try in a smaller pan? Also, if you don’t want to soak your prunes in alcohol, a variation Dorie gives is to simmer them in Earl Grey tea rather than water, which gives them an interesting citrusy complexity.

  28. golly – this sums up the post-holiday blues for me. At least Feb is a short month and spring is just around the corner. I miss running outside. I don’t relish the idea of running in the snow.The Far Breton looks amazing.

  29. Melissa – I actually have a 20cm cake pan and promise to use it the next time! Earl Grey sounds very interesting indeed and very appropriate since it is my favorite tea. I actually bought 20grams with extra Bergamot the other day…I’m obsessed with Flan and, at least to me, Far Breton seems like a Celtic cousin so I will definitely give it another try. BTW: The other day me and my husband made your "Olla Gitana". Next weekend my (Spanish) parents are coming to visit us. Just guess what we are planning to greet them with… That means it’s really, really, incredibly good!

  30. Hi, Melissa! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and this is the third recipe of yours that I’ve tried. I used a bigger cake pan so it didn’t turn out as dense and creamy as yours, but it was delicious all the same – especially the next morning with a cup of thick black coffee. I substituted the prunes with dried cherries soaked in a very nice bourbon, and it was lovely. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  31. Hi everyone, thank you so much for all the kind comments and feedback on the recipe! To answer the question about the flowers, it’s dried lavender – non-culinary grade, I’m afraid, but fragrant nonetheless!Kathy – Interesting you should ask about the lens since I was testing out a new one we recently bought, the Canon 50mm f/1.4. It does seem to give amazing detail, doesn’t it?Malka – The whole or full-fat milk we get here is around 4%. I imagine you must have something similar?Elodie – I stand corrected! Salted butter and rum sound mighty fine to me, and I just may have to whip up another one to see which version I like better… 🙂

  32. I made the Far Breton in January. Exact same recipe. It turned out really good. Perfect on a cold winter’s day.

  33. Found it a bit difficult to locate pruneaux d’Agen. Had no luck in Toronto, but was able to find some at the Atwater market in Montreal.Baking the far this weekend.

  34. I tried the Far this weekend as a contribution to my family’s pot luck easter celeb. It’s really remarkably easy and yet so elegant and I love its taste. I remember having tried the far in 1992 without the raisins nor the prunes. It was so good but my friend won’t give me the recipe. I tried guessing the ingredients and even baked it with no success. Wow, after 15 years, can you imagine me stumbling over the recipe in your blog! Thanks so much! The far will be on top of my dessert list. Soooo good!

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