Top | Baking
(recipe, Dorie Greenspan)
Luck comes in many forms. Many years ago it came in the form of Marie-Cecile Noblet, our French au pair. Not only was she terrific with Joshua, our son, and a delight to have in our home, but she could cook. She came from Brittany and, as young as she was when she came to live with us, she had spent a few years working with her father, a chef and hotelier, so whenever the baby didn't need us, we'd dash to the kitchen and cook together. Marie-Cecile was a natural cook — she could feel her way around almost any dish — and although she arrived without a single written recipe, she cooked and baked with ease and remarkable precision. She called it cooking au pif — cooking by following her nose.
Au pif was how Marie-Cecile made her far Breton, a custardy cake beloved in Brittany but just about unknown here. Based on a crêpe batter, the far is simple in every way — the batter is whirred together in a blender, given an overnight rest, then mixed with dried fruit and baked. Marie-Cecile made her far with prunes, but I can't remember whether she steeped them or not (she probably plumped them over steaming water) and, of course, because she made the cake au pif, there is no recipe to refer to. So, in the spirit of au pif-ness, I offer you my recipe for far made with prunes and raisins (although you could use dried apricots or cherries or any of the fruits in combination), and I offer you a steeping choice: Earl Grey tea (a great companion to prunes) or Armagnac (an equally great, if stronger, companion).
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract
- ⅛ tsp. salt
- 5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup pitted prunes
- ⅓ cup dark raisins
- 1 cup hot tea, such as Earl Grey, or ¼ cup Armagnac plus ¼ cup water
- Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
- Up to one day ahead: Put the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, salt, and melted butter in a blender or food processor and whir for 1 minute to blend. Add the flour and pulse the batter several times. Pour the batter into a pitcher, cover, and refrigerate for at least three hours, or, preferably, overnight.
- Meanwhile, for tea-soaked fruit, put the fruit in a heatproof bowl and pour over the hot tea. When the tea cools to room temperature, cover. For Armagnac-soaked fruit, put the fruit and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the water almost evaporates, then turn off the heat and pour the Armagnac evenly over the fruit. Stand back, ignite the alcohol with a long match, and wait until the flames die out before pouring the fruit and syrup into a heatproof bowl. When the fruit is cool, cover it and set aside.
- Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-by-2-inch round cake pan, line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper, and dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet.
- Remove the batter from the refrigerator and whisk to reblend it, then rap the pitcher against the counter to break the top bubbles. Pour the batter into the pan and drop in the fruit, trying to distribute it fairly evenly; discard whatever soaking syrup remains.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is puffed and brown and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and cool to room temperature.
- The far is fragile (its fragility is part of what makes it so delicious) and it takes a little extra TLC to unmold it. So that the custard is not cut by the wires of the cooling rack, cover the rack with a piece of parchment or waxed paper, and dust the paper with confectioners' sugar. Have a serving plate at hand. Run a blunt knife gently between the cake and the sides of the pan, and turn the cake out onto the prepared rack. Don't leave it on the rack any longer than necessary — quickly and gently invert it onto the serving plate.
- Just before serving, dust the cake with confectioners' sugar.
The far is best at room temperature — that's when it is most puddingish — so try to serve it soon after you've unmolded it. It should be served plain with just the dusting of confectioners' sugar.
I think the far is best on the day it is made, but it can be kept in the refrigerator for a day and served either chilled or at room temperature.
Culinate editor's note: For a clafoutis-like dish, use halved fresh cherries (soaked in the Cognac or tea if you like) scattered across two buttered pie dishes. Pour the far breton batter over the cherries and bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.