David Lebovitz gives guidance for making and baking all things sweet in Ready for Dessert. During cherry season, Lebovitz recommends serving the cake with a compote made from the fruit, plus a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s also a perfect picnic cake—rugged enough to pack, delightful enough to look forward to.
The Basque region is an area that spans the border between Spain and France, where a strong sense of nationalism has fueled a desire for independence among some of the Basque people. (I recommend not bringing up the topic if you go for a visit.) But one thing that all sides can agree on is that gâteau Basque is one of the region’s tastiest achievements and a great source of pride.
I’m an impartial observer, but I am partial to this dessert, which is a cross between a cake and a big cookie. But being Basque, it’s naturally subject to controversy: Some versions have pastry cream sandwiched between the layers, and others are filled with cherry jam. While happily tasting my way through various examples in the region, I’ve enjoyed versions of both, which is a pretty good way to keep the peace.
Don’t be too concerned if the dough falls apart as you roll it; it can be pinched together and will still bake up perfectly.
Variation: A prune filling for gâteau Basque isn’t exactly traditional, but since the nearby Gascon region is famous for its prunes, I’ll often make a filling with them: Quarter 8 ounces of pitted prunes; heat them in a small saucepan with 3 tablespoons brandy, 1 tablespoon rum, 1 tablespoon anise-flavored liqueur, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup water. When the liquid comes to a boil, cover, and remove from the heat. Once cool, process the mixture in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until chunky and use in place of the cherry jam.
- To make the dough, in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the flour, almonds, baking powder, salt, and sugar until the almonds are ground to a powder. Add the butter and process until the butter is in tiny pieces.
- Add the egg, egg yolk, and the vanilla and almond extracts and pulse until the dough comes together. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other, form each into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan, dust it with flour, and tap out any excess.
- To make the filling, in a small bowl, mix the cherry jam, rum, brandy, and anise-flavored liqueur. Set aside.
- Dust the larger disk of dough on both sides with flour and roll it out to a 10-inch (25-cm) circle between 2 sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap. Peel off the top sheet of plastic and invert the dough into the prepared pan. Peel off the sheet of plastic that is now on top and press the dough gently into the bottom of the pan and partially up the sides. Don’t worry if the dough tears; it’s very forgiving—just patch and press together. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 1-inch (3-cm) border.
- Roll out the second piece of dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured plastic wrap. Peel off the top sheet of plastic and invert the dough over the filling. Peel off the sheet of plastic that’s now on top. Gently press the edges together to enclose the filling.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk and brush it liberally over the top. Rake the tines of a fork 5 or 6 times over the surface in two diagonally opposing directions to create a crosshatch design.
- Bake the cake until the top is deep golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then run a knife around the sides to loosen it from the pan. Release the sides of the springform pan and let cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve.
- STORAGE: Gâteau Basque is actually better the second day, after the flavors have had a chance to meld. Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, it’ll keep for about 1 week at room temperature.
Reprinted with permission from Ready for Dessert, copyright © 2012 by David Lebovitz, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.