I’m familiar with Brittany and the fact it’s known for good butter and buttery pastries, but I will admit that Breton Butter Cake is new to me. There are probably hundreds of variations, but this one caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, Food and Wine named it one of their top 40 best-ever recipes. Second, it calls for only four ingredients — frozen bread dough, flour, sugar and butter.
Food and Wine’s Breton Butter Cake is adapted from a version by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford’s book, Home Baking. The method used to make it is similar to the one for Kouign-Amann, a buttery pastry layered with sugar that melts and caramelizes around the edges. I have not seen the version in Home Baking, but in Food and Wine the method used is almost the same as croissant dough, with a buttery square that gets rolled with and folded several times with the pastry.
First, you pat 6 oz of butter into a 6 inch square. I like to do this in a large freezer bag, though generally I only use one color of butter! I ran out of one brand and had to supplement with another so the butter in this picture is yellow and white.
Next you roll the thawed bread dough into a rectangle, set the butter on the bottom half of the rectangle and sprinkle it with sugar.
The dough gets folded over the butter and sealed into a square.
Then you roll that butter-filled square into a very long rectangle. Next, you roll the short ends of the rectangle inward so they meet in the center.
Lastly, you roll in half like a book. By this time the butter and dough start to soften, so you chill the “book” for 20 minutes and repeat the process again not once but twice. With all the rolling and dough transferring it really helps to have a pastry mat and a cake lifter. If you have those things (and a rolling pin, of course) you should have fun with this.
However, if don’t have some refrigerator space for the dough or you just want to try it a different way, you’ll be happy to know that Food and Wine has a second version of the recipe on their website. Actually, that’s where things got confusing. The picture and Breton Butter Cake in the magazine is the same, yet the ingredient amounts, temps and techniques are different on the website. My version is based on the magazine’s. The first time I followed the recipe as written and used a cast iron skillet. Even though I shielded though dough, it burned a bit and the sugar was more burnt than caramelized.
The second time I used a 9 inch round springform pan lined with buttered nonstick foil and had just the right amount of caramelization and only a slight bit of burn — nothing a little powdered sugar couldn’t cover.
That, plus I was able to move the pastry out of the pan easily so I like the springform pan method over the cast iron.
Finally, the recipe says the cake needs to be eaten right away. If you make it in the springform and remove it, you can let it cool, remove it from the pan and wrap and freeze. It freezes quite nicely.
Anyhow, here’s the recipe as I made it. I can’t wait to try using this same technique to make Pain au Chocolat!
- 1 pound frozen bread dough, thawed
- 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) chilled salted butter
- 1 tablespoon melted salted butter (or more) for pan
- 10 tablespoons sugar
- Cut butter into ½ inch thick chunks. Put them in a large freezer bag and pound with a rolling pin to make a 6 inch square. Use your hands to shape the square through the bag by pushing butter towards the corner. Put the bag of butter in the refrigerator and chill until firm. When ready to use, you will open the bag and cut down the seams to remove the butter square.
- On a barely floured pastry mat, roll the bread dough into a 12x8 inch rectangle. Note: Start with zero to a little flour and add flour as the dough gets sticky. If you start with too much flour, the dough is springier and harder to roll. Also, pause and let the dough rest every so often if you are finding it too spring-y to roll.
- Take the firm butter square and set it at the bottom of the rectangle. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the sugar, then fold the unbuttered part of the dough over the butter square and seal edges. Dust with flour and roll the square into a large (about 8x20) inch rectangle. I like put the cut zipper bag I used for the butter between the rolling pin and the dough to curb stickiness.
- Fold the short ends to meet in the middle and seal. Then fold in half like a book so that you have four layers stacked. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for 20 minutes.
- Set the chilled stack on the floured pastry mat and again, roll the square into an 8x20 inch rectangle. Sprinkle another 3 tablespoons of sugar over the rectangle and then repeat the folding process by folding the two short ends to the middle to meet and then folding in half like a book. Chill dough for another 15-20 minutes.
- Repeat the folding process once more, rolling to a large rectangle, sprinkling with remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, folding short sides to the middle and folding in half. Note: During this third roll your dough may be stickier and harder to work with and it may tear. If you can’t get a 20x8 inch rectangle, just get as close as you can and dust with flour to prevent tearing and bubbling. It will all work out. Put in the refrigerator for 20 minutes while you prepare the pan.
- You can use a 9 inch cake pan with 3 inch sides or a 9 inch round springform. If using a springform, line the inside with foil and grease with butter. Have ready a rimmed baking sheet to set the pan on. This is important, as the butter will most likely leak.
- Press the dough into the prepared springform pan so that it goes almost but not quite to the sides. Allow it to sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes. It will puff up somewhat but it won’t rise completely. Brush the top with a little more butter and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon of sugar.
- Set the springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for about 35 minutes, shielding with a piece of foil after the first 20 minutes. Don’t skip the shielding part!
- Let the cake cook for at least 30 minutes, then remove sides of pan, lift out the cake and peel away the foil. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.