A “far” is a French custardy cake, one that’s more of a pudding than anything else (kind of like this French apple cake, but perhaps even a bit more pudding-like). Its crepe-like batter is thin, and when baked, its sides puff and billow up while getting a deep brown color. This version, with prunes, comes from Brittany (hence the Breton part), but to be honest I’m not sure if there are any other versions of French fars.
I first heard of this holiday cake from the blog Manger (my skilled abilities from my one semester of French urges me to tell you it’s pronounced mawn-jay with a very soft “j”). It’s one of those rare websites that is very singular in its nature, unable to be replicated by anyone. Perhaps that’s because no one else is possible so fortunate as to not only be beautiful with the most angelic-looking kids, but live in the idyllic French countryside with a pack of little soft dogs. To top it all off, she has an Icelandic husband (seriously, how many languages do their kids know?) who can take the loveliest photos to capture it all.
Manger’s version of far breton features prunes that soak in rum. The way she describes its pairing with the “homely batter” to make a “never-ending taste linger on until you have the last sip of coffee” was enough to sell me on the entire thing. While I chose to follow a different recipe though, one by Dorie Greenspan, I kept that same aspect of using only prunes, and soaking them in rum. They are scattered through the entire custardy cake, making bites vary between the thick and rich custard with the tart and juicy prunes.
Can we talk about prunes, just for one second? This is kind of a tangent, but I think its important. As I’m sure the whole world is aware, there’s kind of stigma surrounding prunes. I don’t know, something involving old people and digestive tracks. Anyway, that stigma has been driven so far so that all I see when I try to find them in the grocery store is “dried plums.” Really? David Lebovitz has an awesome post about this issue. Apparently they are a big delicacy in France, so I’m not sure why we’re so adamant about judging prunes and those who eat them anyway. They are delicious, and especially in this. And that is that.
Speaking of which, I hate to give off the impression that anything French or French-minded > anything in America, especially around the time of the holidays when I should be sticking strictly to American traditions. But I have to mention, Lindsey spent some time in Paris while studying abroad in Rome, and being the thoughtful twin sister that she is, she brought me back a heavy Paris restaurant guide, written in French. So even though I can read just about 1 out of every 20 words in the guide, I’ve kind of gone on a wanderlust for French things (per usual), and this far is a byproduct of that. Nonetheless, this is a beautiful cake that I hope to make even when I’m out of this kind of mood later on in the year.
One Year Ago: Classic Stout Gingerbread
Adapted slightly from Dorie Greenspan
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
a good pinch of salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup small or medium-size pitted prunes (about 6 ounces)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rum
In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla and salt. Blend for 1 minute, until fully blended and creamy. Add the flour and pulse, scraping down the sides a time or two, until just blended. Cover the blender container and chill for at least 3 hours or up to 1 day.
Meanwhile, combine the prunes and the 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until almost all the water has been soaked or evaporated and the prunes have softened, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, pour the run over the fruit, and set aside to let the fruit cool completely.
When ready to bake the Far, position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Butter a 8 or 9-inch pan that has at sides at least 2-inches tall. Line bottom of the pan with parchment, butter it, then dust the pan with flour, shaking out the excess.
While the oven is heating, re-blend the batter just until smooth again, about 5 to 10 seconds. Pour about half the batter into the prepared pan. Place the prunes evenly into the batter, then continue to pour in the remaining batter. Bake in the preheated oven until sides are puffed and browned, and the center is golden, about 1 hour. The center should be just set, but it’ll still jiggle a bit; a knife inserted should come out clean though. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto a plate, releasing the cake. Peel off the parchment, and invert again onto a serving plate. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar and serve.