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Yesterday I reviewed A Gift from Brittany, Marjorie Price's lovely memoir of her years in France. Her closest friend at that time was an older country woman, Jeanne, who lived down the road in the small hamlet of La Salle.
Today, I am pleased to share with you an authentic and very traditional recipe that Marjorie learned from her friend. I'll let Marjorie do the introductions:
The Quatre Quarts cake is a simple, basic cake that every peasant woman in Brittany used to make. I use the word "peasant" carefully, because that's what the country people called themselves in the 1960s, which is when my memoir takes place. The term refers to people who lived on farms, often farms with no modern comforts and where the customs, farming methods and way of life more closely resembled the Middle Ages than the twentieth century. Many women made their own version of the Quatre Quarts cake, but it was always a basic cake, similar to a simple pound cake, sometimes with seasonal fruit added, and most often enjoyed with a cup of strong, chicory-laced coffee or a glass of hard cider.Thanks, Marjorie, I can tell this will be a staple in my house--especially in the fall.
I've never been a pastry chef, but the Quatre Quarts is the one cake I love to make. Perhaps because it makes me relive those days in a country kitchen in Brittany with a remarkable peasant woman named Jeanne Montrelay who became my dear friend and changed the way I saw the world so many years ago.
Les Quatres Quarts
- Sift a cup of flour into a large bowl.
- Add slightly less than a cup of sugar.
- Stir the flour and sugar, then hollow out a space in the middle to crack in four fresh eggs (“just laid,” Jeanne would say).
- Start by stirring the eggs and work your way outward until eggs, flour, and sugar are well mixed.
- Melt two tablespoons of butter, add to mix.
- Add two tablespoons of olive oil or light, natural oil, making four tablespoons in all.
- Start beating the mix with a sturdy wooden spoon – preferably imitating Jeanne’s expression (described on pages 95-96 in the book).
- Keep beating until batter is smooth, not runny, and just right.
- At this point, lightly line a cake tin with butter.
- Sprinkle over it a teaspoon of flour and shake off.
- Peel an apple, pear, or whatever fruit is ripe off the tree.
- Slice and place around the bottom of the pan like a fan unfurling.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Beat batter again.
- Add a full teaspoon of vanilla and mix well.
- Add a teaspoon of baking powder and beat thoroughly.
- Pour immediately over the fruit.
- Sprinkle the top with a little sugar.
- Slip gently into the oven.
- For the next forty minutes or so, walk softly, be careful not to slam doors.
- After about forty minutes, or when your start smelling the cake, check it by dipping a knife into the batter.
- When the knife comes out clean, it’s done. Don’t overcook.
- Remove from oven and allow it to cool off.
- Turn pan upside down and release cake onto a plate so fruit is on top.
- Slice and serve, preferably with coffee or hard cider (from Brittany, of course.)
I hope you enjoy this taste of Brittany.