Far From Bretagne

A couple of years ago I became obsessed with making cheesecake—specifically, baked cheesecake—to the point where my family thought I liked nothing else and made me one for my birthday. Lately I’ve become similarly obsessed with Far Breton, a classic French dessert, partway between custard and cake, made with prunes or raisins soaked in Armagnac, brandy, rum, tea or water. I remembered it fondly from visits to France, and was reminded of it a few months ago at a school fair where one of the parents had made some for a cake stall, but didn’t even know its name until I searched for “French prune custard cake” and found some recipes.

After printing off half a dozen and trying a few, I tweaked the ingredients and methods until reaching the perfect balance, discovering along the way that soaking the prunes in tea and/or rum is inferior, draining off the soaking liquid rather than letting it absorb weakens the prunes, and using too big a baking tray gives a flatter (although still tasty) result. Vanilla is important, as is browning the butter, which has to be salted; and although it makes a good dessert when warm, it’s even better cooled overnight in the fridge and sliced up the next day.

My kids again think I’m obsessed, but they haven’t minded eating my experiments, although one didn’t like the boozy prunes and requested the variant made with apples.

The best recipes I found were by David Lebovitz, the Sunday Baker, Meilleur du Chef and the French Cooking Academy, with useful tips from a video by the latter. Saveur’s apple version was also useful, along with one from My Cancale Kitchen. Here’s mine.


Far Breton par l’escargot rapide

24 prunes (stones removed) or 6 gala apples (peeled, cored and sliced)
¼ cup (60ml) brandy (for the prune version)
60g salted butter (not unsalted)
100g plain flour
110g white sugar
3 large or 4 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
500ml cold whole milk

Gently warm prunes in a small saucepan with the brandy until the liquid is absorbed. For the apple version, bake the slices in a dish for half an hour until softened. Allow fruit to cool.

In another saucepan, melt the butter until it foams and the solids turn a golden (not dark) brown—a beurre noisette—then transfer it to a bowl and let it cool a bit.

In another bowl, mix the flour and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, whisking into the centre of the dry ingredients, gradually picking up more from the edges to keep it smooth, until combined.

Whisk in the vanilla essence, milk, and finally the melted brown butter. Cover and transfer to the fridge for an hour or more.

Preheat oven to 200°C.

Butter a square 23cm cake tin and dust it with flour, then arrange the prunes in the bottom.

Whisk the cooled batter a little and carefully pour it over the prunes.

Bake for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 170°C and bake for another 50–60 minutes. The top should be a rich brown and a toothpick or knife should come out clean when it’s done. Try not to eat it all before it’s cooled to room temperature.


Far Breton's a custardy cake / Fine boulangers in Brittany make / That's embedded with prunes; / A dessert lover swoons / At the thought of this fabulous bake.

17 October 2023 · Food