I love making cakes. It’s such a luxury to say, You know what? Today, I’m going to dedicate my day to baking a cake. I was reading The Basque History of the World, and when the author talked about these traditional Basque cherry-filled cakes called “bistochak,” I decided to indulge myself in a day of cake baking. Also, I have this dull pain in my belly from missing Basque Country — the people, the language, the proximity to the green mountains + the sea, the fiestas, and, of course, the food. A Basque cake, or gâteau basque, seemed like the perfect recipe to kick off a new year of blogging.
So baking. Very precise. Verrry precise. But I’m a rebellious baker. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) When I see that Bob’s Red Mill is charging $14 for almond flour, friggin’ ground up nuts, I’m like, How dare you, BOB! So then rebellious baker lady decided to change the original recipe and sub in the called-for one cup of almond flour with alternative flours (i.e., the other rando flours lying around in my cupboard) like grape seed flour, which is also a fine substitute for all-purpose whole wheat flour, and you know what — the result was quite nice, though slightly denser and more crumbly than the original would have been. The crust of the gâteau basque is like a delicious, buttery, almond-y cookie. In fact, you can and should take any leftover dough and make a lovely batch of cookies. The inner layer is a rich custard dotted with cherries. Traditionally, the cake is made with black cherries indigenous to the Basque region. But, regrettably, I’m neither in Basque Country nor cherry season, so dried cherries will have to do. These cherries can be turned into brandied cherries, which involves bringing them to a simmer in brandy mixed with sugar and maybe a cinnamon stick for some pizzazz. As I’m not an old man, I don’t have any brandy, so the choice was between tequila and bourbon… bourbon’d cherries it was.
Basically, I’m the worst baker in the world and follow NONE of the directions. That, or I loosely follow ALL of the directions. But the results are what counts, am I right? And my hubby ate two large slices of this beauty when it was still warm from the oven (I had a huge chunk myself), so truth: It was pretty damn delicious. I should probably talk about resolutions at some point because January. Here they are:
- Be a more diligent baker.
- Quit alcohol for the month of January (update: as of January 13, I quit quitting alcohol).
- Re-jigger my blogging/ writing motivation and focus on the things that inspire me, like Basque cooking, and anything else that tickles my little fancy. Maybe I wanna write about German currywurst. Maybe I wanna write about Mexican mole (happening soon!). Just roll wit it.
- Improve my photography skills and stop trying to convince myself that I NEED to spend a day pillaging B&H and acquiring a new lens before I can do so.
- Do more public speaking 😳 I haven’t done any since law school and if I don’t get back into it, I’ll never be able to host my own cooking program with Action Bronson 😊
Hope your 2017 is off to a good start, notwithstanding any egotistical crazies becoming leaders of the free world. Treat yourself to a cake baking day… keep scrolling for the recipe for gâteau basque.
for the dough
- 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (9 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil mixed with a splash of almond extract
- 1 cup all purpose wheat flour and white grape seed flour blend (or sub in an all purpose wheat flour of your choosing)
for the filling
- 2 1/4 cups milk
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 6 large egg yolks
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup boozy cherries, drained (see Note)
- 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon of milk, for brushing
- In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, whole eggs and almond oil, and keep mixing until they are incorporated. Switch mixer to low speed and gradually beat in the flours.
- Scrape the pastry dough out onto a work surface, divide into three roughly equal portions, then form each portion into a disk, about 3/4 inch thick. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Once dough is firm and you’re ready to bake your cake, it’s time to prep the filling. In a medium saucepan over low-medium heat, heat the milk with the vanilla seeds or extract. Meanwhile, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the sugar and flour. Once milk is hot but before it boils, whisk it into the cornstarch mixture, then pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is bubbling and very thick, about 5 minutes. Add the egg yolks and the whole eggs and simmer, whisking, for 3 minutes longer. You may want to scrape the bottom of your saucepan with a spatula a few times to make sure clumps aren’t forming. Scrape the pastry cream into a large, heatproof bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Let the pastry cream cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the first disk of dough to a 1/4-inch thickness and cut out a 12-inch round. Slide the round onto a lightly floured baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, roll the second disk out to a 1/4-inch thickness, and cut out a second 12-inch round. Transfer it to a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, or a 9-inch round cake pan. Lightly press the dough onto the bottom and up the side of the pan. Trim off the excess and refrigerate the tart shell until firm, about 10 minutes. The third disk, along with any other excess dough, can be made into cookies.
- Use a rubber spatula to spread the pastry cream in the tart shell in an even layer and dot with the boozy cherries. Cover the tart with the first round of dough and press gently to seal the edges. Trim off any excess. Brush the tart with the egg wash. Using a fork, lightly score the top of the tart in a diamond pattern.
- Set the tart on a baking sheet and bake on the bottom shelf of the oven for 20 minutes. Rotate the tart and transfer it to the upper third of the oven. Bake the tart for 35-40 minutes longer. When finished, the crust will be a deep golden brown and the center will be firm to touch (no jiggly custard underneath). Transfer the tart to a large wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature, with good strong coffee.
Note: if you have fresh or dry cherries, follow these instructions to make brandied/boozy cherries. If short on time, soak cherries in booze for at least half an hour, then drain before using.
This recipe was adapted from Food & Wine’s gâteau basque via Daniel Boulud.