In the little town of Haute-Rives, home to the astounding Palais Ideale, a palace built from pebbles by a postman (it’s a whole other story you can read about in The Good Life France Magazine – totally for free), I popped into the lovely little bakery across the road.
There in front of me were an assortment of cakes, pastries and bread. In France they call window shopping leche-vitrine. It literally translates as window-licking. Standing at the window of the boulangerie (below) I totally got the concept.
The shop sold delicious cakes and had several specialities such as a pogne – a doughy cake which is filled with praluline, a pink praline mix and a version of it called a Saint-Genix brioche cake. Like many cakes in France, there’s a tale to be told.
The Saint-Genix brioche is made in honour of Saint Agathe. Born in Italy in the 3rd century AD, she had strong Christian beliefs and when a Roman Consul tried to have his wicked way with her, she rejected him. Angered, he kidnapped and tortured her and tried to get her to renounce her faith, even cutting off one of her breasts. But a miracle took place, it grew back. The Roman consul ordered her to be executed, an act which was followed by an earthquake – it killed the Roman Consul and the executioner.
Anyway , some 1300 years later, the people of Sicily decided to adopt Saint Agathe as their patron saint. Every year on her birthday, 5th February, they made round cakes in her honour. The cake’s popularity spread to France and the French brioche recipe in use today was created by a 19th century pastry cook from Saint-Genix in Savoie. He flavoured the brioche with orange blossom water and filled it with praluline. His customers loved it and now its made in several regions.
You’ve got to love a weird cake story haven’t you!
Recipe for Brioche de Saint Genix
1 sachet of dried yeast
350g strong flour
2 eggs if using strong flour
75g butter cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 dessertspoons sugar
175ml of cold milk
200g Pink Praline
50g of crystallised sugar
egg for glazing
How to make a Brioche de Saint Genix
Warm the milk and add the yeast, then the butter, eggs and sugar. Mix in the flour and knead the mixture until the dough has a pliable elastic type consistency. Leave the dough in a large bowl to rest overnight in the fridge.
The following day knead the dough again and then roll the dough out and turn and fold it a few times.
Reserve some praline for the top and lightly crush the rest and incorporate the praline into the dough. Then shape the dough into a round loaf.
Leave to rise in a warm place for around two hours.
Brush the brioche with egg wash and then sprinkle the pralines and sugar on top.
Bake at 190C for about 30 minutes until a deep brown colour and hollow-sounding underneath.
How to make pink praline
250 g (8.8 oz) Toasted whole almonds (or hazelnuts)*
450 g (2 ¼ cups) white granulated sugar
120 ml (4 fl oz) Water: use cold water or water at room temperature.
Orange flower water (or rose flower) – optional
Red food colouring
* To toast almonds, bake them on a tray in a preheated oven at 300 F/150 C for 15 minutes.
Red food colour: the red colour is a signature of pink praline. Add food colouring as needed (it is usually enough to add about 7 drops of red food colouring to each cooking step).
In a large frying pan, place one-third of the sugar (¾ cup/150 g), pour one-third of the water (1.35 fl oz/2.7 tbsp/40 ml) and add a few drops of red food colour.
Stir the sugar mixture well with a wooden spoon and bring it to a boil. Once large bubbles start forming, add the almonds.
Lower to a medium heat, add orange flower water and keep stirring constantly.
The red sugar syrup will begin to crystallize – keep stirring until all the nuts are coated in the syrup.
Pour the mix onto a parchment covered baking tray and let cool then place in a clean pan.
Save the remaining, pink-coloured caramelized sugar.
In a small saucepan, place one-third of the sugar (¾ cup/150 g), one-third of water (1.35 fl oz/2.7 tbsp/40 ml), the reserved pink sugar, and a few drops of red food colouring and heat.
Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture reaches the temperature of 255 degrees F/124 degrees C (use a sugar thermometer).
Pour the syrup over the nuts, stirring constantly until well coated then tip onto parchment covered tray, taking care to separate the individual almonds.
Repeat again as for steps one and two with remaining ingredients but check the colour – you may not need more food colouring at this stage.
Let the nuts dry out before storing then in a tightly closed jar or box in a cool dry place.
By Janine Marsh, Editor of www.thegoodlifefrance, author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.
All rights reserved. This article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten (including translated) or redistributed without written permission.