The French have a faintly irritating predilection for naming dishes after women (e.g. crêpes Suzette); whereupon, more than one claimant is proposed as the female in question. Pommes Anna is just such a dish.
Invented by Adolphe Dugléré (1805–1884), protégé of Marie-Antoine Carême, pommes Anna was reputedly first served at Café Anglais, Paris, where Dugléré was head chef. The ladies laying claim to its moniker are:
- Anna Damiens (aka Dame Judic), a French comedy actress famous for her ménage à trois, which was adapted into a book.
- Anna Deslions, high-class hooker well known for plying her trade around the court of Napeoleon III. This is the most often recorded etymology for the dish.
- Anna Hellawell of Ampthill, Bedfordshire – no idea who this is, or where this idea comes from. It’s on Wikipedia, but it is most likely nonsense.
Adolphe Dugléré is a character worth pausing over. He is one of the three chefs (the others being Carême and Escoffier) credited with inventing tournedos de boeuf à la Rossini, and he was also responsible for the legendary Dîner des trois empereurs (‘three emperor’s dinner’). This dinner was cooked and served at Café Anglais for regular punter King William I of Prussia. The King had decided to bring some mates along, and these were Tsar Alexander II of Russia and Prince Otto von Bismarck. The young tsarevich was also in tow (later to become Tsar Alexander III). No expense was spared over this 16-course, 8-hour meal, which was notable not only for its cost (€9,000 per head in today’s money), but also for the Tsar’s complaint that there was no foie gras. Once placated by the explanation that for gras is not served in June, the restaurant sent a jar of the delicacy to St Petersburg the following October.
Cafe Anglais was at 13 Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, on the corner with Rue de Marivaux, but has long since gone, and the original building has been replaced. Google Maps shows the site unoccupied at the time of writing, with 70% discount signage in place for a retail outline called ‘Evolution.’
Making pommes Anna correctly is a complete pig and requires specialist equipment. Potatoes are sliced thinly using a mandoline, and then layered with butter in a special cocotte à pommes Anna. The cocotte will allow you to turn the dish over several times while cooking to enable an even crust. Mauviel will sell you a copper one for £350, which is a crazy amount of money for a piece of cookware that will only cook one dish.
For this reason, almost every published recipe, including the one on Larousse (given here), ignore the turning, and cook the dish from start to finish the same way up. You do still need a mandoline though, but thankfully they can be used to cut more than just potato.
In common with pommes de terre Boulangère, some restraint is needed in the seasoning or the individually seasoned layers will end up way too spicy and salty.
- 1kg potatoes, peeled and sliced to 1mm thick with a mandoline
- 75g butter
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Set an oven to 200˚C.
Melt 50g of the butter in a saucepan and keep warm.
Melt the rest of the butter in the dish you are going to cook the potatoes in. This needs to be a 20–24cm, lidded oven-proof dish or pan. Depending on what you are using, melt the butter in the dish in the oven, and remove before browning; or do the same job on the stovetop if you are using a pan. We use a 20cm copper sauté pan, which will do stove and oven.
Working to make overlapping circles of potatoes, cover the bottom of the pan, and then brush over a layer of butter. Lightly season. Then layer the dish with layers of potato and butter such that there are about 6 layers total and all the butter and potatoes are used up. Lightly season as you go.
Once the cake is built, cover with a lid and place in the oven for 25 mins. After 25 mins, remove the lid and return to the oven for another 30 mins to brown.
Once cooked, run a spatula around the edges of the cake to loosen it, and then neatly turn it out upside down onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges to serve.
Pommes Anna are notable for being made from just butter and potatoes, but The Nosey Chef likes to chuck some thyme over the top before baking. For a really golden finish, you can start the pommes Anna off on the stovetop before transferring to the oven – they need about 5–10 mins until they start to smell good – you will not be able to check the doneness before moving to the oven.