Breton Butter Cake

February 12, 2013

Sunday Dinners comes to us from our own chef/photojournalist/farmer/father figure Tom Hirschfeld, featuring his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.

Today: Tom goes gluten-free on a favorite old shortbread, with no regrets.

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This morning little Lynnie keeps telling, "No," yelling and pointing in excitement at the cake I made for last night's Sunday dinner. She is telling me she wants it for her birthday. The heels on the last three slices of the cake have been nibbled. Last night she kept slipping her little hand in and under the wrap so she could pinch and sneak little pieces off. The edges now look like we have a mouse in the house, and I finally had to move the cake to higher ground.

We had guest last night for dinner and while making dessert yesterday I recalled making a promise this year to make more desserts. I haven't been. So I started thinking about this commitment while making this cake. I figured I need to sort out my likes and dislikes. Set some parameters and set myself up for success.


Most of the time I don't want anything sweet. I am not a big sweets person. When I do a simple, small piece of dark chocolate usually suffices. I don't want anything overly sweet.  

Not only that, but as with many chefs I have a certain disdain for making desserts. It’s not that I don’t like to make them but that these grumblings occur because I usually wait till everything else is done before I think to make something. It is like opening the dishwasher to to put in dirties only to find you haven’t yet put up the clean ones. I have no explanation for this other than I think it comes with the toque. It's why the gods made pastry chefs.


The idea of a dessert that holds the potential of a coffee or tea break snack but can double as an after-dinner treat always appeals to me. I am always out to kill two birds with one stone.

I have made this cake multiple times but I haven't made it since I became gluten-free, so I figured now would be as good a time as any. Knowing the kind of cake it is -- a very buttery shortbread -- I figured it would make the conversion without suffering. It did. In all honesty I think I like it better gluten-free. The rice flour really gives it a quintessential butter cake texture in a shortbread way.


There are technical things I like about it too, or maybe I should say, the lack of technical things. It is a put-all-the-ingredients-into-a-bowl, mix, dump and bake affair. Not a lot of extras to clean up.

It holds well too. It is on day three, still on the sheet tray, covered with plastic wrap and pieces keep disappearing.

It is a cake of no regrets and, if this afternoon I do have any, they are gone by the time I have finished my last delicious bite and sip the last sip of coffee from the cup. Again, two birds with one stone.

Breton Butter Cake

Makes 12 pieces

600 grams King Arthur all-purpose gluten-free flour, or 4 cups all-purpose flour
30 grams corn starch (1/4 cup)
395 grams sugar (2 cups)
448 grams salted butter, yes salted, soft (4 sticks)
140 grams egg yolk, (7 yolks)
22 grams rum (2 tablespoons)
1 egg yolk mixed with one tablespoon of milk

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jessica Edelman
    Jessica Edelman
  • LeBec Fin
    LeBec Fin
  • Lorenza
  • Chef Petunia
    Chef Petunia
  • cratecooking
Father, husband, writer, photojournalist and not always in that order.


Jessica E. April 7, 2013
This was a HUGE hit at Passover. Thank you!!!!!
LeBec F. March 17, 2013
tom, so glad you do this 52 feature; i always enjoy it and particularly your writing. GF awareness has not really sunk into my head but i realize i worked out a gf recipe that might interest you. i've done 3 diff versions of polvorones made w/ cornstarch. here's one:
i make it w/ a tiny bit of flour but the original recipe was for all cornstarch, so do try that.
Lorenza February 12, 2013
ps, On Sunday i prepared the baby back ribs from your previous post. OMG, they are awesome and we are enjoying the leftovers tonight for Fat Tuesday. They are my new "go to" ribs: an island riff on ribs with rice and black beans. Keep your inspirations coming T, you are revered at our table.
Lorenza February 12, 2013
TH, you mention "rice flour" in the narrative preceding the recipe. The ingredients call for KA gluten free flour. Does KA gluten free flour=rice flour. I purchased rice flour at an Asian market intending to use them for meringues (another Food52 post). Would use it happily for your Breton Butter Cake, if appropriate. Please advise and Grazie, Lorenza
thirschfeld February 12, 2013
Lorenza I did at rice flour and that is because KA GF Flour is mostly rice flour but it does have tapioca flour and potato starch added. So I can't say for sure it would work with just rice flour.
Chef P. February 12, 2013
I have yet to try making your butter cake. But, there is one thing for sure, eating this cake witbout tbe flatware featured with the cake, I know it wouldn't be the same. Do you care to share with me the name of this french pattern? Many thanks.
thirschfeld February 12, 2013
If I remember right it is Jean Dubost
cratecooking February 12, 2013
This looks delicious, can't wait to give it a shot!
thirschfeld February 12, 2013
Hilarybee February 12, 2013
At first I thought this was a take on the Breton Buckwheat cake--which makes an easy GF conversion too. Have you tried it?
thirschfeld February 12, 2013
I know about the buckwheat cake but have yet to make it. It is on the to do.
Hilarybee February 12, 2013
It looks like a good conversion, I'll definitely give it a try. Another GFree conversion that is the Gateau Basque--since it is an almond flour base, with a jam or cream filling. Polenta and almonds style cakes are worth a try, usually with whole pureed oranges or lemons. Really good and works well as gluten free.
Droplet February 12, 2013
A mouse nibble here and there is one thing but with whole pieces disappearing I'd be checking my kitchen twine, rolling pin...sounds like a makeshift conveyor by mousy fans :)
thirschfeld February 12, 2013
I think that mouse is me and the conveyer would be translated as "hand to mouth."