Why It Works
- Chilling the dough in the refrigerator makes it easy to roll out.
- Almond flour in the dough and almond extract in the pastry cream adds nuttiness and deepens the flavor of the cake.
The first time I heard of gâteau Basque (or Basque cake), I was told to imagine a kind of pastry that blends elements of a cookie, a tart, and a pie, with a filling of pastry cream or cherry jam. That description was more than enough to sell me on the idea—it wasn't long before I'd baked my own. The result was lightly sweet with a sturdy yet tender, slightly crumbly crust, buttery-rich flavor, and a creamy center. Dorie Greenspan, the prolific baker and cookbook author, equates it to a “grown-up Pop-Tart” and, funnily enough, those were the first words my brother-in-law used to describe the pastry, mumbling them between mouthfuls of cake.
Gâteau Basque hails from the pays Basque, or Basque country, in southwestern France. Known as “etxeko bixkotxa” in Basque, the cake gained widespread popularity during the nineteenth century, thanks to Marianne Hirigoyen, a baker from the town of Cambo-les-Bains, who sold the cakes at local markets before opening her own bakery. Nowadays, the cake is a fixture of Basque culinary culture, so much so that there is a museum, a two-day annual festival, and an Eguzkia association of twenty pastry chefs, all of whom are dedicated to promoting and upholding the cake's tradition.
Basque cake has two main components: the dough and the filling. The dough itself is made from all-purpose flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, eggs, butter, and salt. The addition of baking powder helps the dough rise slightly and lightens the final texture, avoiding dense and heavy results. I like to mix in almond flour, a non-traditional ingredient, which I found adds a nubbly quality to the dough and complements the almond extract (another addition of my choosing) in the pastry cream filling. The dough is easy to prepare with a stand mixer, first by beating together softened butter and sugar until fluffy, then working in an egg, and finally incorporating the almond and all-purpose flours. The dough is then split into two (these will later be layered with the filling) and refrigerated to firm up.
Traditionally, the filling consists of either pastry cream or black cherry jam―it is always one or the other, with pastry cream being the most popular. For the pastry cream, I stick with classic vanilla, adding in a splash of rum (which I’ve made optional) and almond extract (if you’re inclined, you can sub in chocolate pastry cream, which isn’t a common flavor variant but one that pairs well with cherries). As for the jam, the "official" version is made from black cherries grown in Itxassou, a village in the French Basque country, but that's obviously not an option for most of us, so use whatever store-bought black cherry jam you can find.
In my own recipe tests, I made versions alternatively with only pastry cream and only jam, and while they were good, I couldn’t help myself from making a third version with both fillings, which—shocker of shockers!—was my favorite with that classic tart-like combo of sweet custard and juicy fruit. While not entirely conventional for gâteau Basque, it’s not an unheard-of innovation in modern recipes.
Once the fillings are prepared, the final step is assembling the cake, first by rolling the disks of dough into smooth, thin layers, and then layering them into an eight-inch cake pan with the pastry cream and jam in between. After pinching the top and bottom dough edges together, I like to fold the excess back over instead of trimming, to create a thicker crust all around. A little egg wash brushed on top followed by a crosshatch pattern with the tines of a fork give the cake its classic shiny design. After baking and once it has completely cooled, gâteau Basque tastes best on the day it’s made, coupled with a mug of tea or coffee, and, if you must, a Pop-Tart for comparison's sake.
- 8.8 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups; 250g)
- 1.7 ounces almond flour (1/2 cup; 50g)
- 1 teaspoon (4g) baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, divided; for table salt, use half as much by volume
- 7.4 ounces unsalted butter (15 tablespoons; 210g), softened to about 65°F (18°C), plus more for greasing
- 5.2 ounces granulated sugar (3/4 cup; 150g)
- 1 large egg (50g), brought to slightly cooler than room temperature, plus 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk (15g), straight from the fridge, for egg wash
- 8 ounces (1 cup; 225g) vanilla pastry cream (see note)
- 1/2 tablespoon (7ml) rum, optional
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) heavy cream
- 3 ounces (about 1/3 cup; 85g) black or other cherry jam, spread, or preserves (see note)
In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar and mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down bowl and paddle, add the 1 large egg, and mix on medium speed until fully incorporated, about 1 minute. Scrape down bowl and paddle, add half of flour mixture, then mix on low speed until just combined, about 15 seconds. Repeat with remaining flour mixture, scraping down bowl and paddle as needed.
Scrape dough, along with any loose bits, onto a lightly floured work surface and, using your hands, bring dough together into a smooth ball (dough should be soft and slightly sticky but refrain from adding more flour). Divide dough into 2 equal portions (about 340g each) and shape into flat, round disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease an 8-inch cake pan with butter and set aside. Remove dough disks from refrigerator and set on clean work surface.
In a medium bowl, whisk together pastry cream, rum (if using), and almond extract until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining whole egg and egg yolk with the cream and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt until homogeneous. Set egg wash aside.
Place one dough disk on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin and adding flour as needed underneath and on top of the dough to prevent sticking, roll out to a 9-inch circle that’s about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to the prepared cake pan by carefully rolling dough around the rolling pin, then unrolling over the pan. Press dough gently yet firmly into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Dust off excess flour with a pastry brush.
Add cherry jam to the center of the dough, and using the back of a spoon or a small offset spatula, spread in a smooth, even layer, leaving 1/2-inch of space around the perimeter. Repeat with prepared pastry cream, spreading evenly on top of jam.
Place second dough disk on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin and adding flour as needed underneath and on top of the dough to prevent sticking, roll out to a 8.5-inch circle that’s about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer to the cake pan by carefully rolling dough around the rolling pin, then unrolling over the filling. Using your hands, tuck the top layer of dough in along the space around the perimeter, making sure that the outermost edge of the dough is upright. Using your thumbs, seal the top and bottom edges of dough together. Fold the excess dough up and back over the top, pressing down around the perimeter to smooth out the dough. Dust off excess flour with a pastry brush.
Using a pastry brush, brush top surface all over with egg wash. Using the tines of a fork, gently scrape a decorative pattern onto the surface (a crosshatch pattern is traditional but you can be as creative as you like).
Bake cake until puffed and deep golden brown, about 45 minutes.
Transfer cake pan to a wire rack and let cool completely to room temperature, about 2 hours. Run a butter knife along edges to loosen, then invert onto wire rack, remove pan, and place cake right side up on a serving platter. Slice and serve.
Stand mixer, 8-inch cake pan, rolling pin, bowl scraper or flexible spatula
In the pays Basque, black cherry jam made from a local variety of black cherry is traditionally used. I’ve had great success with using any of the cherry jams, spreads, and preserves that are available at my grocery store.
You can substitute 8 ounces (1 cup; 225g) chocolate pastry cream in place of the vanilla pastry cream.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Wrapped tightly in plastic, gâteau Basque can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.