Gâteau Basque

By the time cherry season arrived this summer, I’d developed a full blown fixation on a cherry pastry I had never even tasted. I’d read, researched and dreamt about it, but I hadn’t yet tracked down a slice for a bite. The elusive and intriguing confection is a Gâteau Basque from the Pays Basque region. It’s a cookie like tart that first caught my attention in Mark Kurlansky’s “The Basque History of the World” where Kurlansky describes a visit to the Gâteau Basque Museum to see a pastry making demonstration. A pastry that has a museum dedicated to it! 

For all the devotion paid it, the Gâteau Basque is kind of homey and simple. A sweet pastry crust encases a filling of Basque Itxassou cherries, or pastry cream. The crust varies somewhat from place to place, but tradition dictates that the filling is always Itxassou cherries or pastry cream. It is considered audacious to even use cherries and pastry cream combined in one tart. 

I might consider pastry cream an option in Winter when beautiful fruit is hard to come by, but to use it when fresh cherries were in season locally seemed perverse. Basque cherries aren’t planted here the Northeast, so I made my first experiments with local sour cherries and later when sweet cherries came into season I tried those. Both were absolutely delicious. I have to confess, that in my next experiments I did brazenly try some unsanctioned fruits. I loved it with plums with lemon zest, gingered peaches, and apples and brandy. I’m hoping to visit San Sebastian this Spring and I hope that this information will not be used against me. I think the traditionalists are missing out. 

We have two orchards in our area that grow black sour cherries. They only open up for picking one day a year. This scarcity keeps demand and interest fairly high and there is an awful lot of anticipation for these cherries among devotees. As far as I can tell these are Morello cherries and they really are pretty special. They’re not sweet enough to be good snacking cherries, but they’re not too sour either. They’re just the essential cherry flavor in a lovely, juicy package. 

I don’t know how Black Sour cherries compare to Itxassou cherries in flavor, but I loved them. They make awesome jam, are stunning in savory dishes and wouldn’t you know it, they make an amazing filling for Gâteau Basque. I’m not willing to submit completely to convention , but I am eagerly looking forward to next summer’s harvest of black sour cherries, and a whole year of nearly traditional Gâteau Basque.

Gâteau Basque 
10 inch springform pan
or six 4 inch french tart pans
14 TBS  butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
 2 tsp rum or tequilla
 1/4 tsp baking powder
 2 1/4 cups plain flour (sifted)
1 1/2 - 2 cups sour cherry confiture, creme patisserie or other fruit filling

Cream the room temperature butter in a deep bowl using a whisk or an electric mixer, until light and creamy.
Mix in the sugar until it dissolves. 
One at a time, add the egg and then the yolk, mixing between each. 
Stir in the rum.
Sift in the baking powder and flour, mixing in by hand with a wooden spoon or spatula to avoid over mixing.
Place the ball of dough in a plastic storage bag or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, preferably overnight.

preheat the oven to 350°
Butter and flour your pan.
Divide the chilled dough into 2 pieces, the larger piece being roughly 2/3 of the total.
Roll the larger dough into a circle large enough to line the base and up much of the sides of your pan.

To transfer the circle, wrap the rolled dough around your rolling pin and center it over the prepared pan. Gently push the dough into the edges of the base so it fits snugly into the corners.
Spread the confiture or other filling evenly over the base.

With the remaining dough, roll out a circle that is just larger than the diameter of the pan. Use a rolling pin to center your dough over the filling.
Seal the top crust by pressing all the way around with your thumb.
Trim away excess dough so that the surface is flat.
The extra dough can be re rolled and baked alongside as cookies or used to decorate the top crust. 

Lightly egg wash the top crust.
Decorate the top of the Gâteau by drawing a pattern with the back of a spoon or arranging your scraps decoratively to the surface. Eggwash the back of the scraps to make sure they stick.
Cut a small a vent hole in the top to avoid cracks.

Bake on the center rack for 1 hour Check after about 40 minutes to make sure it’s not browning too quickly. Cover loosely with foil if it looks like the edges will be too dark. 
Remove to a cooling rack for at least 1 1/2  hours.
When cool, run a knife around the edge to make sure its not stuck anywhere and remove the pan. It should feel fairly sturdy. Run a knife gently underneath and remove the pan bottom.
Can be made one day ahead and kept at room temperature. Freezes beautifully.

The loveliest Gâteau Basque of all is here:

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