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Gateau a la broche | An extraordinary French cake

Baker holds a tall cone shaped cake at a fair called a gateau a la broche, spit cake

Gateau à la broche: At a festival of food in Etaples-sur-Mer in Pas de Calais, northern France, I was mesmerised by a cake making demonstration that was like nothing I’d ever seen before. A metal cone was threaded onto a spit before an open fire and it was spinning at a pace. The baker had before him an enormous mixing bowl filled with cake mix and he spooned a ladleful gently over the length of the cone. Some of the mix stuck, much of it was caught in a bowl beneath the spit.

It was a fascinating sight (see the video on Instagram) as the baker rhythmically poured the mix and more and more stuck to the cone creating little pointy bits as it cooked before the open flames, filling the air with a delicious smell. A crowd grew. We stood and watched for several minutes. Then we drifted off as it seems that the cake needs to cook for up to five hours! We returned just in time to see the final flourish. The baker lifted the spit and pulled the cone off. Letting it cool he carefully removed the cake from its cone and held it up. The crowd cheered. It’s that sort of cake. It deserves a a round of applause.

A cake made on a spit

Cake being made on a turning spit in front of open flamesGateau à la broche is nothing to do with brioche though it sounds like it might be, broche means spit. It translates as “spit cake” which to be honest doesn’t wow us English speakers before we know it’s made on a spit. But – don’t be put off, it’s unique, a sort of a cross between batter and sponge and utterly delicious.

The recipe is believed to have been brought to France from Eastern Europe by Napoleonic soldiers who’d fallen for it. Returning from Russia in 1812, they passed the recipe on and claimed it as a French cake victory. In Haute-Pyrenees and Aveyron, the heritage of this rather messy cake has been preserved and is a firm favourite with the locals. You’re unlikely to see it in the rest of France though unless, like me, you’re at a festival and you’re lucky enough to witness the quite extraordinary baking session.

A cake made with 120 eggs?!

You could try making it at home. That is if you have a spit, a cone and lots of time. But since I asked the baker what the ingredients were, you might not be so keen when I tell you that his recommendation is for 120 eggs, 3kg sugar, 3kg flour, 3kg butter, 2 litres of rum and half a litre of pastis. Cover the cone with baking paper and allow an hour for it to heat up sufficiently. Pour the mix over it whilst turning the spit constantly and allow 5 hours for it to cook…

It’s not one I’ll be trying at home. I think I’d rather stick to the easy to make madeleines and financiers, merveilleux and tarte tatin. But it was an amazing sight to see a gateau à la broche being made. They aren’t the sort of cakes you’ll get in patisseries everywhere. But, if you’re lucky enough to be in Haute-Pyrenees or Aveyron, you can sometimes find them in traditional boulangeries or being made at fairs and markets such as Rodez.

More cake stuff

How to make perfect profiteroles

Chouquettes – one of the favourite sweet snacks of the French!

How to make an authentic Gingerbread loaf – by a Michelin Star chef

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