As I explained in last week’s post, I’m fortunate enough to have some eggs in my household. Given their rarity these days, I really wanted to celebrate them. My apologies to any egg-less readers. Though I have the impression that eggs are now lasting slightly longer on the shelves, so I hope you’re all able to get your fair share before long.
I chose a Far Breton. This is custard dessert from Brittany which often features dried fruit and alcohol. My source recipe included rum, vanilla, and prunes steeped in tea. Each of these ingredients added a subtle flavour, while still allowing the eggs to be the star of the show.
When looking at different recipe options, I noticed that the English recipes I came across seemed to use French brandy (Armagnac or Cognac) – often soaking the fruit in this – whereas the French recipes added rum to the batter, with many soaking the fruit in tea instead. Speaking of which, some make this dish nature (plain), while others use raisins, and yet others, prunes. The fact that the English recipes used brandy while the French didn’t isn’t all that surprising. I learned at Let’s Talk about Terroir, a wine and spirits translation workshop, that although produced in France, the French don’t drink much Armagnac or Cognac, with the bulk of the production exported.
Far out – a pastry-less custard tart?
On reflection, the description I used earlier (‘custard dessert from Brittany which often features dried fruit and alcohol’) really does not do the dish justice. So let’s rewind a bit – what does the French name mean?
According to David Lebovitz, far in Breton is flan in French. But a French flan is not an English, ‘flan’, or even a pie or tart. Instead, it’s this egg-based dish eaten as a dessert or snack. Although I believe a flan normally doesn’t feature fruit, and can also be savoury. Basically, think a custard tart without the pastry.
But ‘pastry-less custard tart’ isn’t all that appealing either. In the end, I’ve just left the name as in the source text. I would also add some introductory text which explained what the dish was, along with a picture of course, so the English audience could understand.
Dried raisins or prunes?
Here are some more false friends for you… (the French is italicised)
Raisin = grape
Raisin sec = raisin (literally: dried grape)
Prune = plum
Pruneau = prune
I’ve always wondered how these similar yet different words came about. Presumably there’s some trade-related history or miscommunication behind them.
According to the fabulous online (English) etymology dictionary, the word ‘raisin’ was also used of grapes themselves in Middle English.
The entry for ‘prune’ explains that in the 14th Century, it could be used to refer to the dried fruit as well. I also learned that as of 1895 it was used as slang for a ‘disagreeable or disliked person’. I quite like that one – nice imagery.
As for ‘plum’ – this word entered Old English from Germanic roots. It came to mean ‘something desirable’, as in ‘now that’s a plum job’ in the 1700s, ‘probably in reference to the sugar-rich bits of a plum pudding’. Now that’s an expression I can get on board with.
The cooking was fairly straightforward. It was helpful to have pictures to reference, as it gets quite brown on top. The batter is very runny, and my recipe made a lot, so I ended up cooking it in a roasting dish.
And the result? Delicious. Not too sweet. Beautifully yet subtly flavoured. Comforting yet not overly indulgent. I'll definitely be making this one again!
Recipe and substitution suggestions
This recipe in English is similar to the one I used, and isn’t complicated.
Or, if you’re looking for a way to kill some time, this recipe from bon appétit might be right up your street.
Bear in mind that the batter is quite runny, so you probably don't want to use a spring form tin of any sort.
Since eggs are such a key part of this dish, I wouldn’t recommend substituting them. I used cow’s milk – I wasn’t brave enough to try swapping that out – I wasn’t sure if a substitute would work in the same way. If you give it a go, do tell me, I’d be interested to know.
You could swap out:
Prunes for raisins (or vice versa), or leave fruit out entirely
If you’re not fussed about authenticity, you could try swapping out another dried fruit of similar sweetness and moisture, like apricots
The booze – use any of those I mention above (Armagnac, Brandy, Cognac, or Rum), depending what you have in the house. Or you could omit it entirely and use tea in its place.
I’m planning another regional speciality. It’s a savoury dish made with simple ingredients yet bursting with flavour.