Yesterday at the Salon l’Agriculture one of the many interesting things I came across was this:
My first thought was, “Yum! A large chocolate globe.” My second thought was, “Is that burnt?”
Turns out I was right on track with the whole overcooked thing. After taking a few pictures and catching the twinkle in the eye of the vendeur, I summoned up the courage to ask him just exactly what the heck those big black, burnt things were. Noticing of course, that I speak French with an accent, he asked me where I was from. When I told him I was from the States, he said, in French, “This is the French version of New York Cheese Cake, the Tourteau Fromagé”, or the Cheese Crab.
They do look a little like giant crabs, don’t you think? They are also known as Tortue Fromagé (Cheese Turtle) and Tourteaux Fromagé (Cheese Cakes).
I had never laid eyes on a Tourteau Fromagé until 24-hours ago, but already I’m a convert. How is it that the French can even make burnt cake taste good??
The Cheese Crab/Cake is a specialty of the Poitou-Charente region in Southwest France, and not usually found at a boulangerie or a pâtisserie, but rather in a fromagerie—especially those that specialize in goat cheese.
To set the record straight, it is nothing like New York Cheese Cake, but it is a lot like a springy and airy Angel Food Cake, with a bit of tangy sweetness.
The cake’s story is one I can relate to: a harried baker accidently shoved a goat-cheesy gâteau into a blistering-hot oven. She smelled something burning, and opened the oven to find a blackened and hardened crusted cake. Obviously she must have been having company, because she tried desperately to salvage it. She lowered the temperature, crossed her fingers, and hoped for the best. To her surprise, the burnt crust protected the inside of the cake, and her finished creation was a spongy, sweet but slightly tart, absolutely perfect cake.
After sharing one with my family last night, I must admit, it seems like a very versatile creation. You could eat it as a breakfast cake with a café au lait, or at lunch with a little fruit on top, or it would be divine after dinner with some strawberry ice cream, and maybe just a wee bit of chocolat noir. It also seems very well suited for a picnic or car trip as it would take a good deal of force to flatten this crab / turtle en route.
When I asked the vendeur if I should eat the crust, his response was, “Comme vous voulez!” I liked it better without the crust, but admittedly, I ate a slice with the crust. Yes. It tasted markedly burnt. Mais it’s a thin crust, and the inside is most definitely worth tasting.
chocolat noir: dark chocolate
Comme vous voulez: As you like.
fromagerie: cheese shop
pâtisserie: pastry shop
vendeur: seller, merchant