French Recipe – gateau Breton

Since November marks the centenary of the Armistice of the First World War, we thought why not explore a French recipe from the war period? Let’s have a look at how to prepare a Gateau Breton, 1914 style:

Household recipes would have had to be adapted to account for shortages in ingredients, and luxuries such as sugar or spices would have to be cut down. People also became less wasteful with their food as a result, because they couldn’t afford to throw things away. In fact, series of cookbooks such as “La nouvelle Cuisine de Guerre”, that adjusted recipes to deal with food shortages, were released during wartime. They also gave practical advice such as how to recycle leftovers or suggestions for replacement ingredients.

Prep time: around 30mins
Cook time: 45mins
Total: approx 1h 15mins


  • 8 large, starchy potatoes
  • 100 grams of butter, melted
  • A cup of milk
  • 40 grams of powdered sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • To flavour, either: lime zest, orange flower water, or a sachet of vanilla sugar
  • A bit of butter and breadcrumbs for greasing the tin.

For the caramel syrup:

  • Hardboiled candies
  • A few spoonfuls of water


Step 1
Boil the potatoes, then peel and mash them. Pass the puree through a strainer to make it extra fine.

Step 2
To the potato puree add the melted butter, milk and sugar. Flavour your gateau however you please with either the lime zest, the orange flower water, or the vanilla sugar.

Step 3
Break the eggs and separate the white from the yolk. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff and creamy. Add the egg whites to the potato batter.

Step 4
Carefully grease an unfluted pastry tin. Sprinkle the tin with breadcrumbs.

Step 5
Empty the batter into the tin and bake on medium heat for 45mins. Turn it over at least 3 times during the cooking period.

Step 6
Prepare the caramel by heating the hardboiled candy and watering it down with a few spoonfuls of water. It may get stiff and crack, but should melt again if water is added. Flavour the caramel the same as you did the gateau.

Step 7
Cover the gateau with the caramel.

As you can see, this recipe makes some drastic substitutions and cuts, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what people had to work with at the time and also their ingenuity to make do with what was available at the market. For women, even getting supplies would have meant queuing outside of grocer’s for hours to get a rationed amount of food.

Discover more delicious French recipes HERE.