The village of Constantine (population of less than 300) occupies a little over a square mile at the south end of the Lac de Morat in Western Switzerland. A few vineyards dot a landscape mostly composed of lush farm and pasture land – an area where farm-to-table, artisanal, and terroir are part of everyday life rather then the urban clichés they have become.
Enter Madame Blanchette Loup, a spry grandmother around 90 years of age, the local culinary superstar. While she doesn’t have a restaurant or a pastry shop, she is renowned far beyond the limits of her tiny village as the grand master of the Gâteau du Vully, a type of hearth bread made from a yeast dough enriched with butter and lard. A savory version is topped with crème fraiche, diced bacon, and cumin seeds before baking, while a sweet one is garnished with crème fraiche before and after baking, as well as sugar and diced butter.
The subject of numerous articles and videos, Mme. Loup was once the manager of the town’s four banal, or communal oven, where villagers came to bake their bread and gâteaux every week. But her acquaintance with the specialty that has made her reputation as a star artisan began much earlier: “I knew about and enjoyed [both versions of] the gâteau since earliest childhood, but it wasn’t until I began working as a cook at the Château de Constantine (a 17th century non-fortified castle, and a convalescent home since 1919) that the manager informed me that I would have to make gâteaux every week.” When she asked her mother for advice, she sent Blanchette to her paternal grandmother for a recipe, “My grandmother had never taught my mother to make it as my mother was not of this region.” Unfortunately, her grandmother was one of those bakers who never measured anything, “When I asked how much flour, she answered, ‘Until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.’” The measurement of yeast was a little more specific – 10 centimes worth from the grocery store.
Over the years Madame Loup refined her own methods and recipe until 1972, when she made over 40 gâteaux for a family wedding and her husband stated, “Keep this recipe – these are the best so far.” After her beloved husband of 64 years passed away peacefully in the local hospital, the nurses consoled her with the fact that he had constantly told them about his wife’s perfect gâteaux!
Over 90 and still going strong, when asked about what she prepares for friends, she answered, “Gâteau, of course, it’s what makes them happy!” She doesn’t need to add that it does the same for her.
Blanchette Loup is the star of numerous videos and the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles, but one, made by the Canton Vaud Tourist Office, stands out. Watch it at https://vimeo.com/87548888.
Gâteau du Vully: The recipe
This is a free translation of Mme. Loup’s recipe. The same dough recipe is used to prepare both the sweet and salted versions of the gâteau.
Makes enough for four 12- to 13-inch pans (see note below for different pan sizes)
Rich Yeast Dough
- 40 g compressed yeast
- 23.6 liq oz warm milk
- 80 g unsalted butter, softened
- 80 g lard, softened
- 1 kg unbleached all-purpose flour
- 20 g fine salt
Topping for Salted Gateau
- 150 g thick crème fraiche
- 4 g fine salt
- 150 g slab bacon, 1/4-inch dice
- 4 g cumin seeds, optional
- In a large basin, disperse the yeast in the milk. Beat in the softened fats.
- Mix the flour and salt and add a little at a time, mixing with one hand, and then beating until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to the hand. Set the dough aside, covered, to ferment for 1 hour.
- Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces of approximately 450 grams each. Round and roll to fit the bottom only of the pan. Cover and allow to proof.
- Use the palm of one hand to press the dough from the center of the pan outward to make it slightly thinner than the edge. Flute the edge of the dough inside the pan to raise a border to keep in the toppings. Use a fork to dock the center dough 10 or 12 times.
- Evenly spread with the crème fraiche avoiding the fluted edge; sprinkle with the salt and then the bacon. Sprinkle with the cumin seeds, if using.
- Bake in a preheated 450˚F oven until well risen and deeply golden, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool slightly and slide to a cutting board for serving warm or at room temperature.
Topping for Sweet Gateau
- 300 g thick crème fraiche, divided
- 140 g granulated sugar
- 40 g unsalted butter, cold, fine dice
For Sweet Gateau, prepare the dough up to the end of Step 4. Evenly spread with half the crème fraiche, avoiding the fluted edge; sprinkle with the sugar and the diced butter. Bake as above. Immediately after baking, spread with the remaining crème fraiche, about a third at a time, to impart a shiny surface to the gâteau.
Note: Quantities of dough for different pan sizes (decrease topping proportions accordingly):
10-inch pan: 350 grams
9-inch pan: 250 grams