MAKE THE PERFECT...
Transport yourself to the glamorous Côte d’azur by baking Brigitte Bardot’s favourite pastry, says Rosa Jackson
Have a go at baking Brigitte Bardot’s favourite cake – the tropézienne.
Star-spotting might be the favoured sport in Saint-tropez, but when I visit this glitzy town on the Côte d’azur, I have something else in mind: tracking down the famed Tarte Tropézienne, an airy brioche sandwiched with a generous layer of vanilla mousseline cream.
Incompatible as it might seem with beachwear, this cake has been part of the Saint-tropez landscape since the 1950s, when Polish baker Alexandre Micka opened a shop in Place de la Mairie and began selling a cake inspired by one of his grandmother’s recipes. During the filming of the French classic And God Created Woman in 1955, Micka provided meals for the cast and crew, capturing the attention of the young Brigitte Bardot, who suggested he market the cake as a speciality of Saint-tropez. He trademarked the name Tarte Tropézienne and remained the sole holder of the recipe until the Alfred Dufrêne group took over the business in 1985. Despite having opened multiple branches in the south of France and Paris, the company continues to keep Micka’s recipe a secret.
What we do know is that the filling consists of two different creams blended together: some versions call for vanilla pastry cream (crême patissière) mixed with buttercream, while others replace the buttercream with whipped cream. Orange flower water, which enters into many pastries in the south of France, lends a mysterious flavour. Though the true Tarte Tropézienne can be sold only in the original shop and its branches, many pâtisseries along the Côte d’azur offer their own versions, which they usually refer to simply as the tropézienne.
For the home baker, the tropézienne is a project that requires more patience than technique. Best made in a mixer, the brioche dough calls for extended mixing, incorporating the roomtemperature butter at the end, plus two risings, as for most breads. Before baking, it may be topped with the traditional sugar crystals or a sprinkling of crumble topping, as in a version by leading chef Alain Ducasse.
As the official recipe will remain a secret, the tropézienne is open to interpretations: you might replace the orange flower water with Grand Marnier or rum, or substitute mascarpone cheese for the whipped cream. Whichever version you choose, this extravagant Polish-turned-french pastry will transport you to a sunny beach in the south of France.
THE PERFECT TROPÉZIENNE Sophie Lim, pastry chef at my cookery school Les Petits Farcis in Nice, opts for a combination of pastry cream and whipped cream in her version.
For the brioche
• 250g/2 cups all-purpose flour • 1tsp salt • 30g/2tbsp white sugar • 1 packet dried yeast • 4 eggs • 125g/ 1/2 cup butter at room temperature • Sugar crystals • Icing sugar
For the filling:
• 1/2 vanilla pod • 250ml/1 cup whole milk • 3 egg yolks • 40g/ 1/4 cup white sugar • 15g/2tbsp flour • 15g/1 1/2 tbsp cornflour • 150ml/ 2/3 cup double cream • 1tsp orange flower water
For the orange flower syrup • 200ml/ 3/4 cup water • 100g/ 1/2 cup sugar • 1tsp orange flower water
Prepare the dough the day before: 1. Combine the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a mixer (the salt and yeast should not be touching). Add three eggs and mix on medium speed for three minutes, then on high speed for 6-7 minutes. 2. Add the diced butter piece by piece on medium speed until incorporated. Turn the speed back to high until the dough is shiny, smooth and does not stick to the side of the bowl. 3. Transfer the dough to another bowl, cover and let rise for 40-60 minutes, until approximately doubled in size. 4. Flatten the dough into a circle, wrap with clingfilm and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
On the day: 1. Prepare the pastry cream. Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the seeds out using the back of a knife. Place the vanilla seeds, vanilla pod and milk in a saucepan and heat to scalding point. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, then add the flour and cornflour, and whisk until smooth. 2. Gradually pour the hot milk on to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stove on medium heat. Keep whisking until the cream boils. Remove the saucepan and transfer the pastry cream into a clean bowl. Cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin from forming on surface. Cool to room temperature, then place in the refrigerator for at least two hours. 3. To assemble the filling, remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and whisk to loosen it. Whip the double cream in a mixer until stiff. Using a whisk, combine the pastry cream, whipped cream and orange flower water. Set aside in the refrigerator. 4. To bake the brioche, remove the dough from the refrigerator 15-20 minutes before using. Roll into a 24cm (9in) circle. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl for the egg wash. Brush the dough with egg wash, cover and let rise for 11/ 2- 2 hours. 5. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340° F. Brush the dough with egg wash again, and sprinkle sugar crystals on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden, then remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. 6. For the syrup, boil the water and pour over the sugar to melt it. When the syrup has cooled, add the orange flower water. Set aside. 7. To assemble, slice the cooled brioche in half horizontally. Place the bottom half on a serving plate and brush the cut side of both halves with orange flower syrup. Pipe the filling over the bottom half of the brioche in circles using a pastry bag, or spread it with a spatula. Carefully place the other half of the brioche on top. Keep in the refrigerator until serving. Just before serving, dust with icing sugar.
ABOVE: The waterfront at Saint-tropez on the Côte d’azur
Food critic and cookbook author Rosa Jackson lives in Nice, where she runs the cookery school Les Petits Farcis and writes about food for publications worldwide.