By Laura Loesch-Quintin
Each year when I visit my grandfather in Brittany, a pastoral region on France's northwest coast, I return bearing delicious gifts for my friends: thin, delicate butter cookies called galettes bretonnes. What sets them apart are the Breton farmstead ingredients: freshly milled flour, just-laid eggs, and the region's signature beurre demi-sel, a creamy butter containing less than 3% salt. Rich and subtly sweet, the cookies are heavenly crumbled over ice cream or nibbled alongside an afternoon cup of tea.
Galettes bretonnes are found throughout Brittany, but they first gained popularity in the small milling town of Pont-Aven toward the end of the 19th century. The boulangers there, who often exchanged bread for local farmers' butter, used the excess dairy to make gâteau breton, a dense butter cake a foot in diameter that functioned as the sacramental bread.
The cake proved so cumbersome and weighty that the boulangerie customers who bought it to take to church began requesting smaller versions. To satisfy them, the bakers developed a cookie-sized variation that they called galettes.
The local specialty earned its fame in the late 1800s, when Paul Gauguin and other members of the Pont-Aven school of art drew flocks of tourists to the town aboard the new railroads, and shops dedicated to the treats proliferated.
One such store, Traou Mad de Pont-Aven, opened by the Le Villain family in 1920, has been making galettes de Pont-Aven for nearly a century. Today, the Le Villains' cookies — crispy and golden with just a hint of salt to balance their sugar — are snatched up by vacationing Parisians and overseas travelers alike. But you don't have to go to Brittany to get them. Traou Mad de Pont-Aven's galettes de Pont-Aven can be ordered ($5 for a 3.5-oz. box) from simplygourmand.com.