Spring attacks in Gascony like no other season. There is no smooth slide from summer days to chill autumn nights; no gradual winterizing of hearth and home preparing for a brief and damp dormant season. Rather, Spring pounces then retreats, sautés a skillet of plum blossoms across the land, before dumping buckets of nourishing rain across the orchards and fields, vineyards and market gardens. The giboulées de Mars whirls the winds overhead and hail, rain and sun cycle through the days. At Camont, the green explosion is so loud the grass can be heard growing under the top song of small nesting birds.
Spring food is also green; the deep orange pumpkins and squash have run their course. The mornings still require a fire in the kitchen stove but by afternoon, I am looking at the potager squares and plotting summer salads and outside cooking. The first asparagus arrives with great fanfare near Easter; artichokes are sweet and meaty to be eaten out of hand with creamy chilled butter smeared on each leaf, painstakingly slow and delicious. Spring food might be just a reference to the end of winter deprivation as baskets of tawny eggs overspill at market stalls and generous custardy dishes like clafoutis or sabayon grace our convivial tables.
Spring is a celebration not of weather but of table. Fresh farm eggs in many forms announce the rebirth of spring: Oeufs Mimosa, a classic Eggs Benedict made fresh with wild garlic or asparagus and doused with a golden-hued Hollandaise sauce, or a simple golden eggy cake- a 'Quatre-Quarts' made with butter, sugar, flour and eggs, of course. A thick buttery slice can be fancy dressed with the first local strawberries and crème frâiche or eaten plain with a cup of coffee, this classic farmhouse sweet is a tribute to Spring's abundance of eggs and butter and can take a place of honor on a spring table.
I've researched dozens of recipes and made this my favorite version. The key is the best ingredients with something this simple. So very fresh farm eggs, great salted butter, and freshly milled flour are essential. I've used a small hand mixer for ease, but you can whisk this together by hand as well. Weighing the ingredients is also essential, and whether you use ounces or grams, the results will be consistent.
Quatre-Quarts or a French Pound Cake
The basis of this classic cake is equal parts of the four ingredients-eggs, flour, sugar, butter. If you want to make a larger cake, use more eggs and weigh the other ingredients accordingly. I used a deep terracotta dish that comfortable held the 1000 grams of batter with plenty of room for it to rise.
Turn Oven to 180'C or 350'F
- 4 eggs weigh them in their shells. Mine weighed just about 250 grams.
- 250 grams sugar
- 250 grams flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 250 grams salted butter, melted (I put a 250 gram block of butter in a pan in the preheating oven)
- lemon zest (from one small lemon)
- 1 tablespoon orange flower water
After weighing the eggs in their shells, break the eggs into a mixing bowl. Set the bowl on a scale and tare or zero the scale and weigh the same amount of sugar into the bowl. Using a hand electric beater or a whisk, beat the eggs and sugar together until the sugar has melted and the mixture is light and golden. Return the bowl to the scale, tare and weigh in the flour and baking powder. Mix with the beater until well blended. Add the melted butter, lemon zest and orange flower water into the batter and mix well.
Using any butter remaining from the melted butter pan, butter and then sugar the baking dish. You can use a loaf pan, a bundt pan, or any shape. I used a heavy terracotta deep gratin pan. Pour the heavy batter into the buttered and sugared pan and place in hot oven for approximately 45 minutes. The size of your pan will dictate the time it takes to cook through. The top should be nicely browned and spring back when pressed gently with your fingertips. remove from oven. This cake is sweet with butter and has a medium crumb, dense enough to hold up to the first strawberries of the season or a drizzle of rum and cream.