I recently became mildly obsessed with an amazing and delicious pastry – a deep dish, double crusted, pastry cream and cherry stuffed delicacy wrapped in a lemon zesty rich and fatty almond dough – dun duun DUNNNNNNN. Enter the Gâteau Basque. I personally have an affinity for anything with baked pastry cream inside, so when I researched this cake, I knew I had to give it a try.
The Gâteau Basque is a specialty of Labourd, France, which is found snuggled up right next to the border of Spain, on the southwest Atlantic coast of France. On the french side, this region is called the Pays Basque, which is well known for it’s fiercely proud people, the Basque language Euskara (with words containing more z’s, x’s and k’s than I’ve ever seen), and of course, the amazing and delicious food that is part of this region’s heritage.
Traditionally, the Gâteau Basque incorporates jam or preserves of the small black Beltxa cherries, also know as The Black Basque variety, that the small Basque village of Itxassou is well known for. Cherry cultivation is a very big and centuries old part of life in Itxassou, with orchards as far as the eye can see and several different varieties to produce the preserves, jams, liqueurs and syrups that Basque country is famous for. The Black Basque cherry is a rare find – it is only grown in this part of the world, which makes the story of this pastry even more special. Even the Patron Saint of the village’s name is intertwined with the importance of the cherry - Saint Fructueux, literally translating to the Saint of Fruit, watches over the hamlet.
We began our Gâteau Basque production crust first with a rich dough containing lots of butter, eggs, sugar, almond flour and a bit of lemon zest. I’ve read that historically this pastry’s crust was made with corn flour and lard, but for flavor’s sake, I’m happily going with the more recent recipes that I’ve found. A historic replica of the Bsaque Cake will be for another day when that lard and corn flour craving is really kicking in. Once our dough has been mixed, rolled out to 4mm and chilled, we are ready to line the bottom and sides of a buttered 8″ flan ring and begin filling.
Before we add the cherries and pastry cream, a thin layer of almond cream is spread over the crust, to enhance the sweet and nutty flavor of the crust. The cherries are added, and of course, I take the artistic license of adding some chopped Valrhona Manjari chocolate to complement the rich flavor of the cherries. Traditional, no, but will it be delicious? YES. Tahitian vanilla bean infused pastry cream to finish off the filling, and we are ready to add the top crust.
The top crust has been rolled slightly thinner than the bottom and chilled until it is very firm. Because this dough is so high in fat, it softens quickly and begins to tear, so we have to work fast. The top crust is placed directly on the surface of the filled tart ring and pressed with our hands. Then, with a wooden rolling pin, we roll with gentle pressure until the two crusts adhere and the ring presses through the dough to create a perfect top crust.
Next comes preparing the Gâteau Basque for garnishing and baking. We brush the crust with egg yolk and use the tines of a fork to create a crosshatch pattern on the top.
It is then ready to be baked in a preheated convection oven at 325F on low fan for about 35 minutes, or until very golden brown. After it has cooled, we remove the ring from the crust and clean the edges with a microplane, if there are any edges that have expanded too much or aren’t perfectly round. The Gâteau Basque cools at room temperature, and then we are ready to taste!
Finally, we are ready to enjoy a slice of our Gâteau Basque. The crust is rich and crumbly and the cherries are sweet and dark against the soft pastry cream and almond cream. The addition of Valrhona Manjari dark chocolate added another dimension to the pastry, with dark and fruity notes to help balance the flavors. It slices beautifully and tastes amazing. Success! We are so happy to add this beautiful and historic pastry to our repertoire……and our stomachs.