Diving into old photos from our last trip in Bretagne (Brittany) brought warm and sunny delightful summer memories of the French northwestern peninsula where I used to spend half of my summers as a child.
Rugged, historical, windswept, mystical – the most perfect place to spend a summer.
Driving the 240 miles (390 km) between the fainted noise of the school bell announcing the beginning of the summer season and our family house in Brittany used to be torture.
I don’t recommend French summer traffic jams.
But as soon as Rennes was far behind us, the western country was finally ours for an entire month.
And with dreamy names like Carnac, Pont-Aven, Quimper, Loctudy, Bénodet, or Lesconil flashing on the road signs as we were swiftly driving by, I could already feel the ocean and the waves wash over my feet.
Brittany – Land of the Sea – Land of Legends.
The summer schedule was pretty simple and always strictly observed.
Sleep in. Play in the garden. Read Treasure Island just one more time. Maybe work on some Summer Activity/Study Book – the dear cahier de vacances. Hiding it so no one could study was also part of the schedule at times.
A trip to the fishing port before lunch to buy fish or langoustines (scampi).
Lunch in the shade outside.
Waiting to digest – yes, this was part of the schedule too. The French have this wonderful crazy rule that kids should not swim or play in the water right after lunch.
Ç’est dangereux !
A 2-hour rule is imposed on all kids and teens. Past 15, the rules could be bent. Maybe digesting in the water wasn’t dangerous for 16 year olds, or so it seemed.
And then, an entire afternoon spent on the beach.
Red buckets, green shovels, colorful beach towels and clear plastic sandals, we were on our merry way walking through the small city.
Turn left past the stone manor, on the way to the abbey, through the sandy path, next to the lighthouse – that’s the best spot.
The blue beach umbrella firmly driven into the sand.
The rocks always hid treasures under the soft green algae where tiny crabs and periwinkles – bigorneaux – were hoping kids wouldn’t find them.
Secretly laughing at all of us, the seagulls were eyeing the crêpes we had brought for a tiny goûter break while enumerating the fascinating adventures we had just witnessed on the beach pier with shiny mica flakes still stuck on our fingers.
The last bite of the crêpe always proved to be a bit sandy and crunchy.
Adults liked to tease and tell grand tales of magical forests and druidic rites, strong heroes and tempting enchanteresses, dragons and forgotten cities, and the Knights of the Round Table.
Tales of the supernatural both fascinating and mystical.
The raging sea, turbulent wind and blinding rain made for cautionary tales of the treacherous coastline.
But the romantic heritage of the Breton lifestyle and scenery is hypnotic like the noise of pebbles on sandless beaches skittering on the ocean.
Despite eating crêpes on the beach, one of my favorite treat was to walk to the boulangerie to buy a far breton.
A slice of far breton – a delicious custardy pastry with prunes.
Like a boat on her beam-ends at low tide, slouching and lounging on a sunny bench to devour the entire package carefully prepared and taped by the boulangère.
The tall tiny pyramid of pink paper with a sturdy square base tied up with brown ribbon to open delicately until the first sight of a prune inside the package.
And that golden-brown crust!
The recipe I am giving you here is for a spiced far breton – served in individual bowls. You can always make a bigger one in a regular baking dish to slice up.
I also like to cook them in silicone baking molds to eat them on-the-go and transport them for a picnic, for example.
My spiced version – which is non traditional – also adds raisins in the mix with cloves, cardamom, lemon and orange flavors.
Easy to make and easier to eat!
I miss spending time in Brittany.
The white and blue houses.
The orange and pink bright colorful spots of flowers.
The French sailor’s striped shirts.
The elegance of Quimper.
The historic port of Concarneau.
The sand dunes of Fouesnant.
The waterside walks of Pont-Aven.
The house in Loctudy.
And the windy granite cliffs of the Pointe du Raz, where it is fun to pretend you can fly by extending the arms as the wind blow through coats and hoods.
“La mer tourne
autour de ses noms
la baie, le cap
la presqu’île, la ria, le marais
et forment un paysage
Crozon, Etel, Guérande
qui confirment un pays
où la mer tourne autour de la terre
sous la lumière du soleil”
La terre tourne – poem by Yvon Le Men
Spiced Far Breton
2 Tbsp (30 g) butter
3.5 oz (100 g) of pitted dried plums, sliced lengthwise
0.8 oz (25 g) of raisins
zest and juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
11 cardamom pods, crushed
3/4 cup (150 g) of sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 Tbsp spiced rum (I use the MA locally made Diabolique rum)
pinch of salt
2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 cup (25 cl) milk
4 Tbsp of spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon of guar gum
pinch of ground cinnamon
Lightly butter small individual bowls with 1 Tbsp of butter. I use bowls with a 3.5 in. (9 cm) diameter and 2 in. (5 cm) high.
You can also use silicone baking molds – pour less dough than for individual bowls.
Place them on a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 425 °F (220 °C).
Prepare the dried plums and raisins first. Make sure to let them marinate overnight. If pressed for time, at least marinate for 2 hours.
In a small sauce pan, bring to a boil the orange juice and juice of half the lemon.
Add the ground cloves, crushed cardamom pods, 1/4 cup (50 g) of the sugar, the orange and lemon zests, the cinnamon stick and the rum to the sauce pan.
Mix well and let simmer for 4 minutes.
Discard the 11 crushed cardamom pods and pour the liquid/syrup over the sliced plums and raisins in a small bowl. Make sure they are covered.
Set aside overnight.
When you are ready to make the far breton, remove the cinnamon stick and zests from the bowl with the prunes and raisins. Drain them but keep the syrup.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the rest of the sugar (1/2 cup or 100 g) until smooth.
Add the pinch of salt, vanilla extract and milk. Whisk well.
Sift the flour and guar gum over the bowl. Gently incorporate the flour to the dough.
If you prefer a spicier taste, use the marinating syrup and add 1 Tbsp to the dough. Otherwise, discard the syrup.
Place prunes and raisins at the bottom of the lightly buttered individual bowls. Pour the dough over and fill the bowls 3/4 full.
Add a pinch of ground cinnamon on top of every bowl.
Bake for 25-27 minutes (less time if you’re using smaller silicone baking molds).
Set aside and let cool at room temperature. Sprinkle each far breton with tiny pieces of butter for a more authentic taste. Divide the last Tbsp of butter among all bowls. Let the butter melt and serve.