Sometime in early 2020 a strange video made its way through my Youtube algorithm, showcasing the Gâteau à la Broche of Arreau:
Perhaps it wasn’t that strange – I had been looking through Korean street food videos looking for an interesting culinary project – but the Gâteau à la Broche was unlike anything I had seen before. Spiky, smoky, and cooked outdoors, I was equally excited about the process as the result. Before long plans were underway to create an American riff of the niche French cake.
The starting point for a Gâteau à la Broche Américain had to be the hardware. The baking tools used here are unique, a wooden cone on a rotating spit next to a fire, with a “batter tray” below the spindle. From what I can tell, there’s a small artisan industry in France to produce these tools, and there are precision tools for the similar German Baumkuchen, but nothing readily available for me on this side of the Atlantic. This meant building my own.
I started with birch logs, roughly 18″ long. Birch is easy to work with, has a fine & even grain, and was easily accessible for me. The next step was to turn the logs into a cone. With the help of my friend John, a carpenter, we turned a cone about 14″ long with a gentle angle, since we needed room to mount the spit.
The second main piece of hardware was the spit assembly. Rather than making my own, I purchased one from Texsport. The major factors were the platform underneath, the 24″ length which would easily accommodate the cone, and the spit itself which had a “drive bar” with a small enough diameter to fit into the cone. Using a long marine drillbit, I bored out the center of the cone using the lathe mounting points as guides, and then drove a second hole in the wide end of the cone to fit the “drive bar”.
The last piece of hardware was the fire itself. My friend Marshall built a sheetmetal reflector assembly over his firepit, designed specifically to reflect heat onto the cake itself in the same fashion as the great fireplaces and ovens in use in France.
The dough for the Gâteau à la Broche Américain is very similar to a madeleine dough, with a few twists. First, eggwhites are folded in at the end to add loft to the dough. Second, we substituted American bourbon for the more traditional pastis or rum.
The scaling will vary, but for a very large (4kg cake), the following works well:
- 1.5 kg sugar
- 1.5 kg cake flour
- 1.5 kg softened unsalted butter
- 60 eggs
- 100g vanilla sugar
- 300ml bourbon
- 2 tbsp table salt
- Maple syrup
- Cone & Spit assembly
- Ladle & Pan
In general, you want to follow a 1kg:1kg:1kg ratio for butter, flour, and sugar, with 40 eggs scaled up and down and vanilla and bourbon scaled accordingly.
The technique and recipe we used is as follows:
1.) Separate the yolks from the whites.
2.) Add 1tbsp of salt to the egg whites and whip until peaks form. Set aside.
3.) Melt the butter fully, using warm water in a second pan, or a microwave on low setting.
4.) Combine the yolks, sugar, vanilla sugar, and remaining salt, stirring until smooth. Add whiskey.
5.) Fold cake flour in, slowly to avoid clumps. Stir in the melted butter.
6. Fold in the whites, portion by portion. Set the batter aside to rest for an hour.
7. Wrap the cone in butcherpaper and twine. It’s imperative to keep the paper as tight as possible to the cone – one major failure point with this recipe is separation of the paper from the wood.
8. Start a fire. Keep the fire to the side of the cone-spit assembly, not just below. Preheat the cone, rotating it to ensure an even heating. Place a “batter pan” – a metal pan with a lipped edge – underneath the cone.
9. Ladle some batter onto the batter pan to begin heating. It will liquefy as it warms – essential to eventually pouring and cooking it onto the wooden cone. Rotate the cone slowly and constantly, scoop batter from the pan, and evenly pour onto the heated, rotating cone.
10. Continue rotating the cone, watching the batter carefully. The batter will be shiny at first, losing its shine and then darkening as it cooks. Add more batter into the pan, then ladle from the pan onto the cone as the cake cooks.
11. Add batter in layers, watching the shine of the cake for completeness and accelerating the cone as batter accumulates. The characteristic spikes of Gâteau À La Broche come from the centrifuge effect, so don’t be afraid to rotate quickly.
By the fourth layer, add a maple syrup drizzle to the cake, adding every other layer.
12. After 9-12 layers, the cake will gain in diameter and become significantly heavier. Remove the entire spit assembly and allow the cake to cool for at least 20 minutes. Then, evenly slice the top and bottom of the spindle and carefully remove the cake from the cone, peeling the parchment and twine from the interior.
13. Stand the cake and allow it to cool. Slice it into layers, donut-style, and serve. The cake keeps better than expected, and can be refrigerated or frozen to increase its longevity.
Gâteau à la Broche Américain is a fun twist on a wonderful regional treat, and is as fun to make as it is to eat. I’ll keep this page updated with further recipe and technique development as we continue to master this unique style.