Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gateau Basque

The cherry tree outside my house has bloomed.  It's wonderful to step outside on my balcony and be surrounded by their delicate, pastel beauty.  It also reminded me of a dessert I've been meaning to make: Gateau Basque.

Gateau Basque originates from the Basque region along the border of France and Spain.  It's something between a cake and a tart: the dough is slightly flaky, but also tender and crumbly.  Traditionally it is either filled with pastry cream or cherry preserves, which is what triggered the memory.

As I sit writing this on a particularly rainy afternoon, (hoping all the while that the cherry blossoms aren't washed away so soon), I am reminded of another rainy afternoon when I first tasted Gateau Basque in Bayonne, France.

After a day of touring the city, I sat down under an awning outside a cafe not far from where this photo was taken.  The rain gently fell and I ate my slice of gateau basque and savored the quaint moment.  The street was quiet, the sleepy afternoon rain causing most people to retreat inside.  It was peaceful and I remember feeling content.  Recreating Gateau Basque in my own kitchen may not recreate that same exact feeling, but I remembered it with every bite.

I used Dorie Greenspan's recipe and found it to be a wonderful version, very close to how I remember it.  Note that I used a larger pan than she did (9" instead of 8") so my layers are slightly thinner than ideal.  It was certainly still delicious, but next time I will seek out a smaller pan.

- 10 tbsp butter (1 1/4 stick)
-1/4 c. sugar
- 1/4 c. brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 2 c. flour
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 3/4-1 c. good quality, thick black cherry jam (or pastry cream)
- 1 egg, beaten for glaze

- Make sure your butter is at room temperature.  To speed this up, slice the butter up and spread it out on a plate.
- Combine the butter and sugars and beat on medium speed until blended and smooth.
- Add the egg and vanilla and beat an additional three minutes.
- Combine the flour, baking powder (no lumps!), and salt.
- Add the the dry ingredients to the wet in about three portions, blending on low just until combined.
- Divide the dough into two portions, gently formed into discs.
- Place each disc between sheets of plastic wrap and gently roll each disc out to the size of your pan.  I recommend making the bottom disc just slightly larger (about 1/2") than your pan so it will curl up a little at the sides.  Be sure to flip the disc often and straighten the plastic so it doesn't become embedded in the dough.  Rotating the dough as your roll it and rolling from the center outward will help you keep them evenly round.
- Refrigerate the dough until it firms up a bit, about an hour (unless your kitchen is particularly warm).
- Preheat your oven to 350.
- I recommend using a spring-form pan for easy removal.  This is about the only item for which I like non-stick.  If your pan is not non-stick, butter the inside generously.
- Gently lower the first (larger) disc into the bottom of the pan.
- Spoon your jam evenly onto the dough, leaving a 1" border around the edge.
- Place the second disc on top of the jam and gently press the edge down.  It will seal as it bakes, so no need to be vigorous here.
- Brush the top of the tart with the beaten egg (you won't use it all).  With the tines of a fork or the back of a knife, draw your desired design.  Traditionally cakes filled with cherry show the Basque cross and cakes filled with pastry cream feature a cross-hatch.
- Bake the cake for 40 minutes until evenly golden on top.
- Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes, then remove it from the pan.

Serve at room temperature.  This cake is delicious on its own and I would discourage the temptation to top it with whipped cream or ice cream: its simplicity is a virtue.  Since the dough is not too sweet, it is suitable for brunch, tea, or dessert.  I found that it lasted well at room temperature for three days well wrapped, though humidity would take its toll.

This is a particularly quick and easy treat to make with very satisfying results.  It will certainly make a return in my kitchen, and I may even use the dough as a base for some other upcoming projects...


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