If you look back through any books relating to classic French cuisine you will more than likely have come across the famous Gateau Basque. A ‘cake’ originating from the southern region of France in the Pays Basque close to the Spanish border. One man who has had this cake on his menus over the years in this country is Pierre Koffmann, a native of Tarbes in the heart of The Basque Country on the French side.
So why make the Gateau Basque? I asked myself. Well it’s highly rated by most and even appears every now and again in high-end restaurants around the country. So it must be good, right? But what exactly is it? To me the Gateau Basque came across as a standard almond tart filled with custard just with a lid on top, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.
Well, I say a lot more, it’s more to do with the actual flavours as custard on its own does sound rather pedestrian. Here, we’re talking a custard with a huge great whack of citrus flavour from orange and lemon zest with a hit of booze, should you wish. Like a crema catalana encased in dough.
First of all though, if you want to make this you need to set aside at least 7 hours to include the chilling of the custard and pastry. Let’s start off with the dough.
3 Medium Free-Range Eggs, at room temperature, plus one extra for glazing
210g Plain Flour, plus extra for dusting
½ tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Salt
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
100g Ground Almonds
130g Caster Sugar
165g Unsalted Butter, diced, plus a little extra for greasing later
As it’s a classic, I’m going old school. Mixing bowl and hands are the only things you’ll need for this step – maybe a knife too but we’ll come onto that in a moment. Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl and add the butter. Rub the butter between your fingertips until you have a sandy texture, almost like breadcrumbs. Beat the eggs in a bowl with the vanilla and stir into the bowl using a butter knife or a spoon will work just fine.
Push the contents of the bowl together to form a ball of pastry. If the dough seems a little sticky just add a dusting of flour until it no longer gives you any problems. Wrap the ball in cling film and chill for at least 4 hours, overnight is ideal but not essential.
While the dough is relaxing in the fridge it’s onto the custard filling, here’s what you’ll need:
4 Medium Free-Range Egg Yolks, at room temperature
125g Caster Sugar
30g Plain Flour
400ml Whole Milk
125ml Double Cream
1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
2 tbsp Rum or Kirsch (optional)
You can of course, if you have them, use vanilla pods but for convenience i’m going with good quality extract. Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and set over a high heat until simmering. Add the yolks, sugar, flour, semolina, rum (if using) and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk together. The mixture may look quite rough at this point but don’t worry. Grate the zest of the oranges and lemons into the bowl and mix again.
Pour a splash of the milk and cream mixture over the contents of the bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the rest of the liquid and whisk once more until smooth. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan over a medium high heat and whisk constantly until the custard thickens. It should just hang off the end of the whisk.
Pour the custard into a clean bowl and lay a sheet of cling film pressed directly on top of the custard, this will prevent a skin forming. Leave to cool or you can even place the bowl into another bowl filled with iced water to speed up the cooling process, your call entirely.
After the custard has chilled for around 4 hours along with the pastry, it’s time to assemble the cake. Preheat the oven to 160C and butter a 20cm tart ring or loose-bottomed cake pan. If using the ring, place it on silicone or greaseproof paper. If using the cake pan, place a round sheet of greaseproof paper on the base to avoid the cake sticking.
Dust the work surface with a generous helping of flour and cut one third off the pastry ball, wrap this in cling film and reserve in the fridge – this will be the top of the cake. Roll out the dough to a circle around 30cm in diameter. Carefully roll the dough back over the rolling pin and roll it directly over the tin, leaving the edges hanging over.
Carefully push the edges flush to the tin all the way around until the tart is fully lined, use any excess dough to patch up any holes. Take the custard out of the fridge and spread it around the inside of the tart to completely fill it – hit all those corners! Beat an egg in a bowl and, using a pastry brush, glaze around the lip of the tart. Roll out the remaining dough to just slightly larger than the 20cm diameter of the tin and drape this over the tart, pressing to seal.
Cut off the excess dough carefully. Glaze the top of the cake with egg wash and drag the lines of a fork across the tart to create a diamond pattern. Poke 4 small holes in the lid and transfer the cake to the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, it should be golden brown and looking delicious!
I left the cake to cool for around 30 minutes while I made an accompaniment. Caramelised plums. These are sensational and so easy to make, here’s what you’ll need:
50g Caster Sugar
2 tbsp Water
4-6 Red Plums, de-stoned and chopped into wedges
1 tsp Unsalted Butter
½ tsp Salt
Get your best non-stick pan, a small frying pan works well. Take the sugar and water and place both into the pan over a high heat. Once the sugar has melted and begins to take on a golden colour, add the plums then the butter and salt. The pan might get a bit lively but it will soon calm down. The plums bleed out a beautiful red colour into the caramel and the flavour is just incredible, turn the heat down a little bit and cook until the plums are soft and hold their shape.
Take the Gateau Basque carefully out of the tin and onto a clean plate – now comes the bit you’ve been waiting for, tucking into this badass cake. I served it simply with the caramelised plums but you can take the caramelisation method and apply it to any stone fruit you like, or even soft fruits like strawberries or raspberries are delicious this way.
Speaking of delicious though – this cake. It’s got such incredible flavour and the texture is like an inverted cream cake. The almonds and vanilla are prominent in the dough and match perfectly with the powerful fruit zest from the custard. With sweet plums and maybe even a sweet glass of wine to compliment it, this is an outstanding dessert which I hope you all enjoy making as much as i did.