At the crossing of two rivers in Cotentin region of Normandy stand a handful of stone houses known as Le Vast. Snug in the middle, by the bridge, is a bakery unlike any other. This bakery is home to La Brioche du Vast.
Brioche is a cake of butter and eggs, raised with yeast and softly held together with a little flour, sugar and salt. But La Brioche du Vast is widely appreciated as exceptional. It is also huge.
A century of tradition
Le Vast butter cakes, or galette, first made by the family Roupsard, have been popular here at the beginning of the 20th century. As more tourists began to travel around the region in the 1930s, the entrepreneurial bakers, now the family Picquenot, saw an opportunity.
The Picquenots extended the bakery to include a few tables and chairs, offering coffee and home-made jam to take with their delicious butter cakes. A little promotion of their establishment ‘Les Moulins du Vast’ and soon the café was a huge success.
Their butter cakes, now known as La Brioche du Vast, are not only very large they have a special taste all of their own. Bakers here have come and gone, but the recipe remains the same and is a trademarked secret. Now the second generation of the family Drieu run Les Moulins du Vast making around 150 of their mountainous brioche every day.
But where does the brioche come from?
Light, rich and moreish, the brioche recipe is said to have originated in Normandy, possibly Rouen in the 14th century. Butter quality is vital to the creation of the best brioche so this is quite likely.
The name brioche is thought to come from the old Norman word ‘brier’; to knead with a wooden roller, and ‘oche’ as … a useful ending.
Brioche reached Paris and the attention of English tourists by the 17th century when Cotgrave included it in his ‘Dictionairie of the French and English Tongues (1611) as ‘a rowle or bunne, of spiced bread. Normand’.
Now many regions have their own versions, sold from specialist shops; Viennoiseries.
Visit Les Moulins du Vast
The bakery and cafe are open every day from 7.30am – 7pm (except Tuesdays and holidays around Christmas and the end of June). You will also find these brioche masterpieces in the Cotentin markets of Cherbourg (Thursday and Saturday) Valognes (Friday) Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue (Saturday) and Octeville.
The Financiers, possibly the loveliest we have ever tasted.