What a beautiful part of the world the Pays Basque is. We caught the TGV train from Paris and five hours later arrived in Saint Jean De Luz. It is a beautiful seaside town, with terracotta roofs and small winding roads. Very quiet after the noise of Paris. We wandered through the roads to our little hotel by the sea and were welcomed and shown our sweet room with a view of the beach.  Although it was late afternoon the sun was still up and shining so we went straight to the beach and had a swim in the icy cold water. I love freezing water so I enjoyed the swim.

Next day we went to the local market and bought too many things as usual. The fresh bread, fruit and vegetables, cheeses, fresh fish, in fact everything looked so good. This is where I saw the Gateaux Basque that I remember enjoying when I visited this area in the 70’s. It is a simple looking pastry surrounded cake. However the taste is luscious. Inside the crisp pastry is a custard and cherry jam filling. Delicious! There is actually a museum dedicated to the Gateaux Basque http://www.legateaubasque.com/ A true Gateaux Basque is supposed to only use a certain cherry jam from the Basque region. As I didn’t have this special ingredient I used cherry jam from a local shop. Some people use canned preserved cherries.

My version of the Gateaux Basque is not perfect but none the less delicious. It is much harder to achieve the perfect results in my little Parisian kitchen. The oven is old and there isn’t a rolling pin or a egg beater. It is back to basics.

I hope you will try this recipe as I know you will enjoy the results, and you can think of this amazing area of the world.

Recipe

 Makes 8 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 40 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg beaten with a splash of water, for the glaze

FILLING

  1. 1 3/4 cups whole milk
  2. 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
  3. 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  4. 4 large egg yolks
  5. 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  6. 1 tablespoon light rum
  7. 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  8. 3/4 cup of cherry jam or black-cherry preserve
MAKE THE FILLING
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over moderate heat with the vanilla seeds. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the cornstarch with the sugar and flour. Whisk the hot milk into the cornstarch mixture, then pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook over moderate 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. 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.

TO MAKE THE PASTRY

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and keep at hand.

Working in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until smooth. Add the egg and beat another 2 minutes or so, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. The mixture may look curdled, but that’s OK. Add vanilla and mix for about a minute more. Then reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in two or three additions, mixing only until they’re fully incorporated into the dough.

Place a large sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper on your work surface and put half of the very soft and sticky dough in the center of the sheet. Cover with another piece of plastic or wax paper, then roll the dough into a circle just a little larger than 8 inches in diameter. As you’re rolling, turn the dough over and lift the plastic or paper frequently, so that you don’t roll it into the dough and form creases. Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Put the dough on a cutting board or baking sheet and refrigerate it for about 3 hours or for up to 3 days.

When you’re ready to assemble and bake the gateau, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350. Generously butter a 2-inch high, 8-inch round cake pan.

Remove the layers from the refrigerator and let them rest on the counter for a couple of minutes before peeling away the plastic or paper. Fit one layer into the pan — if it breaks, just press the pieces together. If there’s a little extra dough running up the sides of the pan, you can either fold it over the bottom layer or cut it so that it’s even. Spoon some of the jam or pastry cream onto the dough, starting in the center of the cake and leaving one inch of dough bare around the border. Add more filling if you don’t think it will squish out the sides when you press down on it with the top layer of dough. (I find that 3/4 cup is usually just the right amount, but if you’re using a very thick jam, you might want a bit more.)

Moisten the bare ring of dough with a little water and then top with the second piece of dough, pressing down around the edges to seal it. If you’d like, you can work your finger between the top dough and the edge of the pan, so that you tuck the dough under a little. Because of the softness of the dough and the baking powder, even if you only press the layers together very lightly, they’ll fuse as they bake. And, no matter how well you press them together, it seems inevitable that a little of the filling will escape.

Brush the top of the dough with the egg glaze and use the tips of the tines of a fork to etch a cross-hatch pattern across the top.

Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it rest for 5 minutes before carefully running a blunt knife around the edges of the cake. Turn the cake over onto a cooling rack and then quickly and carefully invert it onto another rack so that it can cool to room temperature right side up.

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