My goal for this online space has always been to make it an inspiring and relaxing place, a bit like an an oasis for those who visit. I try to keep it light and up beat, as notes of levity are becoming scarce in this world rife with negativity. However, bad things happen to everyone, and we are no exception. “When it rains, it pours,” they say, and the past few weeks have felt as if we’re stuck in monsoon season.
On Friday, one of our dogs (Nandor) received an alarming diagnosis. While I won’t get into too much detail here, his condition is serious but can be treated; however, he will require several rounds of different medications, a couple hospitalizations, and he will need to be kept very calm and still throughout his treatment period, spanning 120 days. This, along with several other recent events, has me feeling like a dark cloud has settled over our home. Like the blog, I always try to keep my emotions and headspace very calm and zen-like. My response to stress or to circumstances that feel as if life is spiraling out of control, is to pause, take a few deep breaths to refocus, then react with grace, one step at a time.
There are circumstances we can control and those we cannot, but we can always control our responses.
On Friday, after I got off the phone with our veterinarian, we were all in a particularly low place. I decided to put on a nice outfit and a spritz of perfume (always a mood lifter for me), open the windows wide, fill the house with music, and bake this traditional Basque cake. I was sure it would lift everyone’s spirits.
This Gâteau Basque is somewhat of a cross between and cake and a pie. A tender pâte sucrée envelopes a filling of either tart cherry preserves (traditional in the Northern part of Basque country) or a rum and vanilla-scented crème pâtissière (more common in the Southern regions). I love the simplicity of the cherry filling – it reminds me a little of American cherry pie. But my husband wanted cream. I decided to fill the cake with both. After all, a simple pastry cream is not very difficult to make, and I felt like we need a bit of indulgence. The cake came out beautifully and did the trick of lifting our spirits. Now, onward, as they say. As I write this, I’m heading out the door to the vet to pick up the first round of medications. I will keep you updated on our sweet puppy throughout the summer months.
Gâteau Basque with Cherries and Cream
- 10 TBSP unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp fine salt
- 1 batch crème pâtissière (see recipe below)
- 1/3 cup cherry preserves (Bonne Maman brand)
- 1 egg mixed with 1 tsp water (for the egg wash)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 2 TBSP butter
In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the whole egg, egg yolk and vanilla and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture and stir until a soft dough is formed. Divide the dough in half. Form each half into a ball, flatten slightly into round disks. Wrap each disk individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the crème pâtissière. Place the milk and vanilla extract in a medium sauce pan and heat slowly until it just begins to simmer, stirring to prevent the cream from burning on the bottom of the pan. In a heat-safe bowl, whisk the egg yolks and egg with the sugar. Add the cornstarch and a pinch of salt. Whisk until smooth. When the milk simmers, remove from heat and, very slowly (1 or 2 Tablespoons at a time), whisk it into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture back into the pan and place over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it begins to simmer and thicken. When the mixture bubbles, remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the film directly on the surface of the cream. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 375F/190C (Convection bake setting. If you don’t have a convection oven, bake the cake at the same temperature for a few minutes longer.) Butter a 9-inch (approx. 23 cm) springform pan. Cut a round of parchment paper to fit on the bottom of the pan and butter the parchment paper; press into pan.
Roll out one of the disks of dough to fit into the pan, with an inch or two of overhang. Place in the pan and gently press the excess dough up the sides of the pan. Spread the cherry preserves over the dough, leaving a 1-inch (2.5 cm) border around the edge. Spread the cooled cream on top of the preserves, leaving the same 1-inch border. Roll the second disk of dough out to fit the pan with little overhang. Place on top of the cream gently pushing the edges down to meet with those on the bottom.
With a fork, whisk the last egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush over the top of the cake, then use the tines of the fork to create a criss-cross design on the top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes until the cake is golden.
Allow to cool in the pan for several minutes before removing. Continue cooling to room temperature before slicing and serving. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.