Gateau Nantais

Gateau Nantais


I’m already getting excited to go to France, and it’s more than a month before our holiday. We’ll be driving down to La Palmyre, which boasts a fabulous pocket of sunny weather on a par with the south of France, all summer long. We’ve tried various routes over the years, including one that ended up involving two hours of nose-to-tail traffic jams on the Nantes ring road *shudders*.

Nantes has redeemed itself somewhat in my eyes with the discovery of this beautiful, regional cake. It’s very simple, but it needs no bells and whistles to stand out amongst more gaudily decorated confections. It is the purity of ingredients and delicious flavours that make it such a winner. A single layer of cake, with a thin covering of ordinary water[1] icing, it is equally delicious as a dessert and as an accompaniment to morning coffee or afternoon tea. With everyone I’ve offered it to I’ve had the same reaction – initial lack of interest at its appearance followed by wide-eyed surprise and delight at the taste.

The cake’s ingredients hark back to the days when the merchant ships from the Caribbean would draw up alongside the quaysides of Nantes, bringing back their cargoes of sugar cane, vanilla and rum.

The the art historian, curator and Nantes native  Paul Eudel (1837-1911) claimed the cake was invented in 1820 by a master Fouacier, one Monsieur Rouleau at his premises on the rue Saint-Clément,  in the city.

Extremely popular for many years, towards the latter part of the 19th century the cake gradually suffered a decline until it was revivied in 1910 by the LU biscuit company, manufacturers of, amongst other delights, the petit-beurre biscuit.

Petit-Beurre biscuit

Production of the cake ceased in the 1970s but it is seeing a revival in the artisan bakeries and boulangeries of the city.

Containing very little flour and no raising agents other than the eggs, this recipe could easily be adapted for the gluten-intolerant by substituting a gluten-free flour for the wheat. The large proportion of ground almonds makes the texture delicately crumbly, and keep it moist for several days. This is a make-ahead cake, best after having matured overnight in it’s haze of rum. 😉

Gateau Nantais

200g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter – softened
60g plain flour
200g ground almonds
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
60ml dark rum

100-150g icing sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line with parchment a round 24cm spring-form tin, or a square 20cm loose-bottom tin.
  • Whisk the  softened butter and sugar together till light and fluffy – this will probably take about 10 minutes.
  • Add the flour and ground almonds and stir to combine.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is fully whisked in before adding the next.
  • Add 20ml of the rum and the vanilla.
  • Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 minutes. The cake doesn’t rise much, but is very moist, so take care not to remove from the oven too early, especially if your cake tin is deep, as the high sides will block the heat to a certain extent.
  • Once the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and brush 20ml of rum over the hot cake.
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
  • Put the remaining rum into a bowl and stir in icing sugar to make a smooth icing and spread over the cooling cake. A great many of the photographs ‘out there’ show a dazzling white icing, which I can only assume was mixed with white (colourless) rum. It certainly makes the cake very striking, but I prefer the pale creamy colour that the dark rum brings to the icing. You choose.
  • Cover and leave to mature overnight.
  • Store in a seal-able box.

[1] where water = rum *hic!*

5 Comments on “Gateau Nantais”

  1. Jan says:

    Hi from France Mary- Anne. I’m going to try this gateaux toute de suite, it looks delicious. We live near Royan so know La Palmyre quite well. Enjoy your holiday!

  2. craig says:

    I just took this out of the oven. It smells fantastic! Thank you for posting this recipe.

  3. I’m very fond of this gateau, although some of my friends won’t eat it because they claim to dislike rum. Actually, that’s all the more for me, which is just fine. I confess to using some water as well as rum in the icing, which does keep it a little whiter, but there’s nothing wrong with a creamy-coloured icing. Have a great holiday – that’s certainly a lovely area of France.

  4. marie russo says:

    while visiting paris, i bought a piece of a cake at a farmers market Boulogne des Marches. It was baked in a sheetsize pan and sold in pieces 1/4, 1/2 etc, It may have been from Brittany as the seller specialized in ancient pastries. It tasted like a flat buttery croissant. Do you know of the name. It is not a Gateau nantais I would love the name.

    • MAB says:

      Wotchers marie russo!

      Could it possibly have been a Kouign Amman?

      It’s a buttery, layered yeast pastry, which is a regional specialty from Brittany. Spookily enough, I’ve just made some Kouign Amman for next week’s blog post!

      Do let me know, and if not, I’ll have another hunt around!

      Best wishes, M-A 😀

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