In The Basque Book, Alexandra Raij takes a look into the recipes and traditions that call this gastronomic haven home.
Pastel vasco, euskal pastela, and gâteau basque are all names for this magical, custard-filled cake, which is so beloved throughout the Basque Country that entire bakeries are dedicated to its production. Until recently, I think the cake was better known than the region. It’s a common attraction at festivals, where it’s often sold filled with homemade cherry jam. Not a cake in the traditional sense, its magic lies in the buttery, shortbread-like crust that encloses its pastry cream filling. This dough is easiest to work with when it is cold, firm, and pliable and impossible to work with effectively otherwise. This recipe takes time and patience, but it is well worth it if you carefully follow each step. It calls for a 9-inch springform pan, but I recommend that you purchase a 9-inch round silicone mold at least 1½ inches deep, as it will make all the difference during the cooking and freezing steps.
- To make the dough, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the eggs and sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add the butter, lemon zest, vanilla and almond extracts, and baking powder and beat just until combined.
- Using a rubber spatula, add the flour in 3 equal additions, mixing just until combined after each addition. Divide the batter evenly between 2 pastry bags fitted with a ¼-inch plain tip. Place the bags in the refrigerator for about 1 hour, until the batter is firm but still pliable.
- To make the pastry cream, line a 13 by 18-inch baking sheet with plastic wrap and set aside. In a small saucepan, combine the milk, ¼ cup of the sugar, the cinnamon stick, and the lemon zest and warm gently over medium-low heat until the milk is barely simmering. Remove from the heat and cover with plastic wrap. Let steep for about 1 hour, until cooled to room temperature. Pour the cooled milk through a fine-mesh strainer into a larger saucepan, place over medium-low heat, and bring to a bare simmer.
- While the milk is heating, in a bowl, whisk the egg yolks until blended, then whisk in the remaining 1⁄4 cup sugar, the cornstarch, and the salt. When the milk is hot, remove it from the heat. Whisk about 1⁄2 cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper the eggs, then whisk in the remaining milk mixture about 1⁄2 cup at a time until all of it has been incorporated. Return the combined mixtures to the saucepan, place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then continue to cook, whisking constantly, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture is thick and creamy. Using a rubber spatula, spread the pastry cream onto the plastic wrap–lined baking sheet. Lay a second sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool, then refrigerate for about 2 hours, until well chilled.
- You can use a 9-inch springform pan or a 9-inch round silicone mold at least 1 1⁄2 inches deep. If using the pan, butter it. If using the silicone mold, you can skip this step. (If using a silicone mold, make sure you keep the bottom of the mold as at as possible.) Remove a pastry bag of batter from the refrigerator and pipe a thin layer of batter onto the bottom of the pan, starting from the center and working outward to make a snail-shell spiral. Be careful not to pipe too much of the batter; the thickness of the layer should not exceed 1⁄4 inch. Return the piping bag to the refrigerator to allow the batter to firm up again. Using a small offset spatula, smooth out the batter on the bottom of the pan, making sure the thickness is uniform. Put the pan in the freezer for about 10 minutes, until the layer firms up.
- Return the pan to the work surface and remove the same pastry bag from the refrigerator. You are now going to build up the sides of the cake by piping the batter against the sides of the mold and using the offset spatula to smooth it out. The sides can be thicker than the bottom, but make sure the sides are a uniform thickness (about ⅓ inch) throughout. Also, be sure to pipe the batter to the top edge of the pan. The easiest way to do that is to pipe the batter to the top of the pan and then level it out against the lip with the offset spatula.
- By the time you reach the top, you should have used up all of the batter in the first piping bag. Return the pan to the freezer for about 1 hour, until the batter is frozen.
- Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and lift off the top sheet of plastic wrap. Using a paring knife, cut out an 11-inch disk. Remove the pan from the freezer and dust the frozen batter layer on the bottom with the flour and sugar. Transfer the disk of chilled pastry cream to the pan and gently press it onto the bottom and halfway up the sides with your fingertips or the offset spatula. Scatter the cherries evenly across the pastry cream, pushing them in gently. Save any extra pastry cream for another use.
- Remove the remaining bag of batter from the refrigerator and return the pan to the work surface. Pipe the batter evenly over the pastry cream and cherries and then smooth the surface with the spatula. Return the pan to the freezer for at least 3 hours or up to overnight, until the top layer is frozen.
- Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the frozen pan on a baking sheet, place the baking sheet on the bottom of the oven, and bake for 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet, rotating it back to front, to the top oven rack and bake for about 40 minutes longer, until the top is a nice golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and place the pan on a rack set over a baking sheet. Let cool for about 10 minutes. If using a springform pan, run a knife around the sides, release and lift off the pan sides, and slide the cake onto the rack. If using a silicone mold, tip the cake out of the mold onto the rack and turn upright. If when you unmold the cake, the bottom looks too pale or is not sufficiently crisp, do not despair: pop the cake back into the oven on the rack (upside down) and baking sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottom is browned.
- Let cool completely on the rack before flipping and cutting into wedges to serve.
Reprinted with permission from The Basque Book, copyright © 2016 by Alexandra Raij, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.