The Basque Cake ( in French “Gâteau Basque) is probably the most famous and traditional dessert from the Basque Region of France. Customarily prepared by women, this treat finds its origin back in the 19th century, and was only enjoyed on special occasions and during Sunday family gatherings.
Pastry Chef Marianne Hirigoyen, from Cambo-Les-Bains, was the first to sell and introduce the Basque Cake at the Bayonne Market, making it become a popular dessert in France. Funny enough, it didn’t take much longer before the cake became famous in America too, as the first Basque settlers arriving in Nevada during the Gold Rush carried along the cake’s recipe and a profound attachment to their native cooking.
Still today, the Basque Cake is deeply anchored in the Southern-France region’s temperament, where the house and the woman of the house are the heart of all things. Indeed, in the Basque language the cake is called “Etxeko biskotxa”, which means “cake of the house”.
Two traditional versions exist of the Basque cake – one filled with preserved cherries and another one filled with vanilla “crème patissiere” (French pastry cream). This recipe is the latter, constructed from two layers of buttery pastry crust, filled with a creamy vanilla custard. It is said to be the most traditional recipe, created by Chef Marichular, from the Basque Cake Museum, in Sare.
Simple looking with clean flavours, this cake is nonetheless a powerful dessert. The pairing of the crumbly buttery crust and the soft vanilla custard is simply inimitable, and truly memorable.
A few notes:
All your ingredients must be at room temperature.
Do not overwork your crust. Mix the wet and the dry ingredients until just incorporated and shaped in a rough, crumbly ball.
The pastry crust tends to break when being rolled, but you can easily patch it up once it is lined into the tin.
Let your vanilla custard cool down to room temperature before you pour it into the crust (or it will make your butter sweat, and the crust won’t be as crisp.)
Basque Cake with Vanilla CreamPrint This
For the Pastry Crust:
7/8 cup butter (200 g), cubed and at room temperature
4 egg yolks + 2 eggs
1 cup (200 g) sugar
3 ½ cups (400g) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
For the Filling:
2 cups (½ litre) milk (2%)
2 egg yolks + 1 egg
2/3 cup (120g) sugar
1/3 cup (50g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon rhum
1 vanilla bean
For the crust:
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter (cubed), sugar and salt, until fluffy.
Add in the 4 eggs yolks and the 2 eggs. Mix until just incorporated.
Sift the flour and baking powder together, and add them to the wet ingredients. Mix until just incorporated. Do not overwork the dough, it should start to shape in a rough ball and shouldn’t be sticky (if it feels a bit sticky, add a sprinkle of flour and mix again).
Wrap your ball in dough into a film, and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
For the cream:
In a medium sauce pan, over medium-heat, bring the milk to a simmer. Drop the vanilla bean in the milk and turn off the heat.
In a bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg yolks and the egg, until obtaining a foamy, ruban-like texture. Continue whisking and slowly sprinkle in the flour.
Turn the heat back on under the milk and bring it back to a simmer. Remove the vanilla bean.
Pour half of the milk into the egg and sugar mixture, and whisk to bring all the ingredients to the same temperature. Pour back this mixture into the sauce pan (with the other half of the milk).
Still over medium heat, continuously whisk until the mixture thickens and turns into a custard-like cream.
Immediately remove from heat and whisk in the rhum.
Transfer the cream into a bowl, cover with a film (the film directly touching the cream) and let cool to room temperature.
To build the cake:
Take the dough out of the fridge, divide it in two equal parts and roll them out into two equal disks (1/4 inch thickness).
Line a 9 inch tart tin with the first dough disk and cut off the excess of dough all around.
Pour the cream in the middle (at room temperature) and spread it out to about ¾ inch from the edge.
Lay the second dough disk on top, seal and trim the edges.
Brush the top with a beaten egg and drag the prongs of a fork over in a tartan pattern.
Bake at 450F for 30 minutes, until the cake reaches a nice golden colour.
Let cool completely on a cooling rack before taking out of the tin.