Breton Butter Cake Is The Classic French Dessert Resembling Shortbread

The region of Brittany is the most northwesterly region in France. A rugged peninsula that juts out into the North Atlantic, Brittany has long been regarded as one of France's most important centers of agriculture. Many famous culinary staples come from this region, including the galette compléte, hard cider, pork rillettes, sardines, and, most importantly, butter. Not only is butter the star ingredient of many pastries made by the region's residents, the Bretons, but it is also front and center in perhaps their most popular dessert, the Breton butter cake, also known as gâteau Breton or kouign-amann.

Despite being beloved in Brittany, it is a rarity to see Breton butter cake tables outside of France. However, the "Great British Baking Show" presented it as a technical challenge in season five. 

The buttery, flaky, shortbread-like dessert is an absolute masterpiece of Breton cuisine, characterized by its caramelization, rich flavor, crumbly texture, and salty bite. But there are adaptations that change up the technique, but keep the same base of ingredients. The textures you can get from each version are simply astounding, and you can very easily make Breton butter cake desserts with the ingredients you have in your pantry.

A rich buttery history

The gâteau Breton cake debuted in 1863 at the Paris Universal Exhibition. Judges were so taken by its buttery flavor and shortbread-like consistency, that it won first prize and went on to become a staple beloved by generations of Bretons.

Now, kouign-amann, which is Breton parlance for "butter cake," can take on a different texture than the traditional gâteau Breton. Kouign-amann can be more texturally similar to a croissant than shortbread. This comes about from the process of lamination, in which cold butter is rolled in between layers of bread dough. Kouign-amann and gâteau Breton can both be served as a single, dense, and highly buttery cake, but kouign-amann is also found as a single pastry that is beautifully crisp thanks to its sugary topping and air pockets.

There is no frosting to speak of on either a gâteau Breton or kouign-amann, as they are already rich and buttery. The dessert can be stuffed with a filling of apricot or plum jam to add a bit of textural complexity and fruit flavor.