In an ancient village in France, chefs produce a special kind of cake

P'EROUGES, an ancient hilltop village jutting out of the lush green Ain Valley, dates back to the Crusades. In the village square, full of storybook charm, bright red geraniums spill out of wood-casement windows and flowers bloom everywhere.

The town's rambling hotel-restaurant, with a picturesque stone and cross-timbered exterior, is filled with handsome antiques, tapestries, and enormous log-burning fireplaces.

Only 20 miles from Lyon, the hotel, the Ostellerie du Vieux P'erouges, is in an area famous for its cuisine. But unlike the inventive chefs of the famous Michelin-starred restaurants, chef-owner Georges Thibaut retains the traditional dishes of his area.

Waitresses in long-skirted costumes serve dishes much like those served here three-quarters of a century ago. The foods, then as now, come from an area known for its superb fruits, vegetables, and Bresse chicken.

Most famous of the specialties to be eaten in this historic setting is the enormous, round, and very thin Galette P'erougienne.

Galettes -- broad, thin cakes -- of many kinds can be found in various forms all over France. There is a Christmas Galette made for Twelfth Night and the Breton Galette that is thin and buttery.

The Galette P'erougienne, unique to this hotel, was developed from the local galette in 1912 by Madame Marie Thibaut, who made the cake thinner and larger each time she baked. Today this galette is about 32 inches wide. With the texture of a rich but thin brioche and the crustiness of caramelized butter and sugar, each one makes 16 wedge-shaped slices.

Adding to the colorful traditions is the way the galette is sold -- in piping-hot slices from a kitchen window at the rear of the restaurant. It costs about 50 cents a slice. On busy days, such as Sunday, as many as 120 galettes are made, one by one, and sold from the back window. It is also served in the afternoon in the big common room of the inn with hot or cold beverages. And it might accompany the dessert after dinner.

Finally, cold and crisp and more delicious than ever, it is served with croissants and freshly baked bread for breakfast to overnight guests.

The recipe is not as easy as it seems at first glance. It is made of lots of sweet yellow butter, the grated zest of a lemon, and a little sugar.

``Any change in technique,'' warns Chef Thibaut, ``and you will make something good, but it will not be the same as our galette.''

This is the recipe for making a large-size galette, which would not ordinarily fit in a normal home oven. Dividing it in two makes 2 galettes about l2 inches in diameter.

For a sauce, Chef Thibaut particularly recommends a classic Coulis de Framboise, a raspberry sauce, or heaping spoonfuls of cr`eme fra^iche, but he cautions against adding anything too sugary. Perouge Galette (La Galette P'erougienne) 1 package dry yeast 2 tablespoons warm water 2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup unsalted butter 2 eggs 2 cups Pillsbury bread flour 1/2 teaspoon salt Zest of 1 lemon, grated Topping: 3/4 cup butter, sliced 3 tablespoons sugar

Mix yeast, water, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in a cup.

In large bowl cream remaining sugar and butter. Beat eggs in a separate bowl.

Combine unsifted flour, salt, and zest.

When yeast mixture becomes frothy, combine with eggs and add to butter mixture alternately with flour mixture.

On floured surface knead about 15 minutes until dough is satiny. Place in a bowl and cover until double in size, about 1 to 2 hours.

Sprinkle flour on a sheet of brown paper, divide the dough into 2 portions, and roll each into a circle until very thin. Use a fork to make dozens of tiny holes in surface of dough, then pinch edges with fingers to form a tiny wall of dough about 1/2-inch high. Spread evenly with butter, then sugar for topping.

Cut paper base the same size as unbaked galette and slide onto a cookie sheet. Bake about 3 minutes in oven preheated to 500 degrees F. Repeat with second circle.

Remove and flatten down any bubbles. Return to broiler 3 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm in wedges, plain or with a sauce.

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