Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Gâteau battu picard (Picardy beaten cake)

Imagine... Imagine a land of sand and mist between river and sea... A tiny market on a sleepy shore...Brooding boats... Dangling mittens... Ghostly jammies... Solemn salads... A man making tiny waffles on an old-fashioned iron...

The baker, Denis Playez, was sandwiching the waffles on the spot with a mixture of cream and light brown sugar (flavored either with rum or vanilla) and selling them by the bag. They were pleasantly crunchy but a bit too sweet for my taste. The golden cakes definitely caught my eye though. Monsieur Playez told us he had been up half-the-night beaten them into submission: the dough needs to rise and be punched back, rise and be punched back, rise and be punched back, and it will only ferment properly if kept at warm temperature (in the old days, folks used to tuck the bowl of dough between them in their beds). Baked in a high corrugated pan, the gâteau battu looks a bit like an inverted chef's toque.
The original recipe is so rich in egg yolks (hence the deep yellow color) and butter that, for health reasons, I will not even attempt to make it at home. But it is fluffier and lighter than a regular brioche and, to my taste, much more delicate than a kouglof. We bought one to bring to our friends' house and we had it for dessert with canned peaches from their garden. What a treat...
In case you are wondering about the exact location of this magical land, it is in Northern France and we happened upon it while driving back down from Belgium where we had been visiting family. The village is called Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. It has a rich history: William the Conqueror left from its harbor in September 1066 to conquer England. Its prison briefly held Joanne of Arc in December 1430 when the British troops chose to overnight there on their way to Rouen.
I can only shudder when I think of how cold, damp and forbidding it must have been for her within these walls on that winter day, especially knowing that she was on her way to her death...
The village is on the shores of the River Somme. It used to be much closer to the sea but the construction of the Somme canal and various other waterworks have had an impact on the estuary which has filled with sand. It is now a heaven for seabirds and mammals (it harbors the only seal colony in France) and a true paradise for nature lovers.


  1. Oh not fair, not fair. I don't need all this glory to increase my desire for another time in France ...
    Gorgeous landscape and photos.

  2. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I've just discovered your site, and I'm a bread lover too, so I love your posts and recipes!!!!!

  4. What a wonderful, thoughtful, inviting post MC. Godspeed on your travels. And thank you for all of the time and effort you put into your blog. I still am hoping for a book....travels, photos, interviews, recipes... memories...



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