far breton

Prunes...in the US we don't even call them prunes anymore because of the irrational bias Americans seem to have against this super fruit that has an association with better body-plumbing functioning, body-plumbing which by nature shares digestive and out-of-norm sexual functions, and in puritanical America, this association is bad on both counts. In the new century the headliner on the package is "dried plums", as if we didn't know any better, and underneath in smaller letters with low contrast in color compared to the background is the dreaded translation: prunes. dr bob loves prunes but even he doesn't pick them up in the supermarket and he doesn't know why. Every once in a while a buy is made, but then remains in the fridge forever due to absentmindedness, a fairly obvious dr bob character flaw, noted often by ms_ani. In Europe or even Korea or almost any other country, you can even find one of dr bob's favorite yogurt flavors: prune! Really, in yogurt it is totally yummy. And has beneficial digestive system effects occasionally needed when traveling. The European Dannon company even makes "bio-active" prune yogurt for super results, although we are not exactly sure what those results are. Here in the third millennium US yogurt market, each company is splitting its yogurt line into 5 or 6 different versions: regular, low fat, nonfat are the traditional ones, sometimes custard or creamy, but now also whipped, carb or heart friendly, full fat super creamy, plus yogurt drinks that never used to compete with the solid yogurt shelf space which is still the same size set by second millennium standards. Drastically insufficient. So the flavor range in each separate yogurt line is pitiful. But this is a bit of a digression.

This is a rustic French prune custard cake typical of the Brittany region of France, which struck ms_ani's fancy in a recent Bon Appetit article on how all French women seem to be able to cook and bake standard simple but surprisingly rewarding dishes with a minimum of effort. While not blowing up to blimp size as a result of course. Too bad so little French cinema makes it to America so we can see these ladies in action more often. Although the kitchen is not the first room you think of when musing about French cinema.

Even though the effort level for this cake is low, it is a two stage recipe since for some reason the batter is supposed to chill 3 hours minimum before combining with the prune mixture and baking and hour, so you have to allow for this. Reading the recipe thoroughly before starting is a good idea, one which often does not find its way into practice in the dr bob kitchen. But which never seems to be a fatal error. In our first attempt, bob got out the food processor instead of the blender (absentmindedness, since the blender is not only out of sight, but out of the kitchen). When the batter started overflowing through the center blade tube, this distinction led to a quick remedial action, requiring a little extra added milk to replace the lost fluid after transferring to the super blender. The pulsing of the flour into the batter was a casualty of this mistake. Could it really make a difference? [The author says yes, too vigorous incorporation encourages gluten formation, which in turn toughens the finished cake. We'll see.]

As for the pan choice, bob thought a springform pan would be easier for cake removal, while ani voted for a glass baking dish. bob insisted. ani countered with the suggestion to wrap the bottom with aluminum foil to prevent leekage. bob said "nahh..." A little bit of batter began seeping out under the edge on the cookie sheet but bob guessed it would not amount to much before the heat stemmed the flow. However, by having inverted the bottom of the pan so the rim was underneath to enable easy access to the edge of the cooked cake for removal above, standard cheesecake practice by now, the side of the springform pan created an nice well underneath that filled completely (1/4 inch deep) and baked rock solid onto the ungreased cookie sheet out of sight of the controlling chef eyes. Apparently cheesecake batter is sufficiently thicker than this batter to not present such amusing byproducts. Which soaked a day before we had the courage to try to scrub it off. Maybe we should have used the glass dish, or at the very minimum tightly wrapped the bottom and edge with foil and consider spraying the cookie sheet with cooking spray just in case. This is the danger of overconfidence matched against too much willingness to accept it.

Success, confirmed by a French expatriate lady from Paris who had once been to Brittany and tasted a local rendition of the dish. We'll be making this again and again. Of course Geraldine actually knows where Brittany is on the upper coast of France, whereas the cooking team has to Google it to have a clue. Americans are notorious for poor geography skills. Even enlightened ones like us, to some extent.


2 c whole milk [we used nonfat, all we ever have on hand these days]
3 large eggs [from happy chickens, why not?]
1/2 c sugar [we used sugar in the raw = turbinado sugar]
5 T unsalted butter, melted, cooled
1/4 t vanilla extract
1/8 t salt
3/4 c all purpose flour
prune mixture
1 c small or medium-size pitted prunes [bite size!]
1/2 c water
1/3 c raisins [we used extra moist baking raisins]
1/4 c Armagnac or other brandy
powdered sugar


  1. Batter.
    Combine all the batter stuff except for the flour in a blender. Blend one minute.
  2. Add the flour and pulse just until blended, scraping down the sides.
  3. Cover and chill in the jar at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.
  4. Prune mixture.
    Combine the prune stuff except for the alcohol in a small heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat until the fruit is softened and the water is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat and pour the alcohol over the fruit and light with a long match, avoiding first degree burns.
  6. Let the flames burn off, shaking the pan occasionally.
  7. Transfer to a small bowl and cool completely. [Cover and let stand at room temperature. Can do a day ahead.]
  8. Combine and bake.
    Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8-in diameter nonstick cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper [like the cheesecake routine!]. Butter the paper so that it glues to the bottom. Dust it all with flour, shaking off the excess [we used the cooking-spray-flour mixture]. Place on a baking sheet [leaks!].
  9. Re-blend the batter about 5 seconds until smooth and pour into the pan. Drop the prunes and raisins into the batter, evenly distributing them.
  10. Bake on the baking sheet until the sides are puffed and brown and the center passes the usual cake test: stab with a knife and if it comes out "clean", it's done. About 1 hour. Maybe longer.
  11. Cool completely on a rack.
  12. Finish off.
    This is a bit tricky with a double inversion. Run a knife around the outside edge of the cake to loosen from the pan. Place a piece of parchment paper on a flat plate and place over top the cake.  Then invert the cake onto the paper, releasing the cake from the pan. Peel off the bottom paper already there and place the serving plate over the cake and invert again. Dust the top with powdered sugar.
  13. The author says this makes 8 servings, but you can cut more to auto-portion-size American guests. On second thought, 8 is about right.


  1. Sunsweet seems to be the major player in the dried fruit sector. Their prune packing boasts "3x better than fresh fruit" backed up by specific details in a bar graph comparison of its nutrition density index ("dried plums rule!") with other common fruit, plus web testimonials (everything has URL's these days!) about life changing benefits from ordinary folks...
  2. Sunmaid owns the raisin market. Every supermarket has their red boxes with the maiden on the front, although it would probably be hard to pick her out of a lineup if she weren't on the box.
  3. Bon Appetit, February 2005, p.91. "When French women bake", by American expatriate Dorie Greenspan.
  4. Brittany (= Bretagne) is the northwest corner of France (for the direction-challenged: upper left on the map), a peninsula-like outcropping that sticks out into the Altantic.
  5. Danone is a Paris-based multinational, parent of our Dannon. Its Activia line of yogurts comes in Vanilla, Strawberry, Prune, Peach & Fibre, and Sweetened Plain and is available next door in Canada! And they did not even have a revolution.
  6. bob never would have tagged this recipe with a Post-it for later consideration, which shows how important cooperative learning is. Together the cooking team is greater than the sum of its parts. Minus a little pigheadedness in one of its members.
  7. Illustrations available. The food photo in the magazine was prettier than ours. Oh, well. Better luck next time.
  8. PRUNE UPDATE: In part thanks to this recipe, at ms-ani's request we have now added prune mini-bites to our daily breakfast ritual. And finally in 2006 prune yogurt arrived in America.
farbretn.htm: 26-feb-2014 [what, ME cook? � 1984 dr bob enterprises]