Thursday, October 17, 2013

Basque-ing in the Sun: Basque cake anyone?

This recipe was inspired by one of my favorite places to sit and sip on obnoxiously creative and delicious, cocktails and some of the best desserts I have ever experienced. A few weekends back, I had the pleasure to enjoy some awesome company of friends, amazing cocktails (I tried Campari for the first time-puckeringly refreshing!) and desserts. It was a great way to come back to Madison after my week-long NMR training in Texas.

The dessert was an Basque cake, baked in a ramekin with slivered and toasted almonds on top, then sprinkled with a flurry of confectioners sugar. But wait, there is more: it was filled with one of the traditional fillings, pastry cream, and then served along side a tiny mountain of sweet blueberries tossed in citrus, accompanied by a canelle of bay-laurel gelato.

Enough said! The next morning, I had to investigate this "basque cake" business. Turns out, it is a cake originating from the Basque Region (go figure) that borders both Spain and France. The cake is traditionally made with an egg rich "dough" verging on cake batter that is enriched with almond flour. In my version, I made it a thick, pour-able batter by loosening up the dough with some sour cream and lemon juice. Traditionally, the "dough" is allowed to rest, as some recipes call for yeast, and are very rich like pie pastry. Both versions are included below (however, I only executed the "batter" version)

 The dough or batter is divided into two layers, that are then sandwiched between sour cherry preserves, pastry cream or both. I used my strawberry jam from the summer, and I really loved the blueberry and pastry cream pairing I had at Nostrano, so I think any delicious fruit preserves will do. After assembly, you wash the top down with an egg yolk wash, drag some fork tines through the moisten dough, and bake to reveal a deeply golden brown cake with a fancy-looking embellishment on top. You can serve this plain-it is excellent with coffee-or sprinkled with confectioners sugar, or drizzled with lightly whipped cream, yogurt or sour cream spiked with honey. Really, there is nothing to lose, so put your lonely tart pans and pastry-making tools to good use, and make this cake! I suspect an apple and pastry cream filling would be pretty darn' spectacular for a fall dessert.

Basque Cake with Seasonal Preserves and/or Pastry Cream
Makes one 9" cake

Dough (or batter that is pour-able)
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup ground almond flour- or 1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds then processed to powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter- that is one, 4oz stick at room temperature-cubed into small pieces
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract or rum
1/2 tsp almond extract
To make the dough a batter to pour, add in juice of ½ lemon and ½ to ¾ cup sour cream or milk

1 cup good quality sour cherry jam, or other preserves (like strawberry)- just add a dash of lemon juice and rum or liquer like cointreau to purchased jam or preserves if you do not make it yourself. Of course, you can add this to homemade as well!

Or, 1 cup pastry cream (I recommend using Julia Child’s in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1. Or, just find a favorite French chef and search for a pastry cream recipe).

Or, you can use both (gasp!).

For egg yolk wash: 1 large egg yolk and 1 tsp milk 

1 9” springform or tart pan (removable sides are needed)
Stand mixer, food processor, hand mixer or a pastry cutter (or, if all else fails, your hands!)
Mixing bowls (one or two; two if you are using a pastry cutter, fork or your hands to incorporate, as the other will be to mix up the preserves if using)
Measuring cups and spoons
Rubber spatula
Optional: Off-set or smaller metal spatula

Prepare a 9” springform or tart pan by coating with butter or oil and flour, tapping out the excess. Preheat the oven to 350F.

Make the dough (or batter): in a food processor with a blade (or a standing mixer with a dough hook), add the flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and mix. Then add the butter- make sure it is in cubes and mix well. Alternatively, use a hand-held mixer in a large bowl to prevent spilling. Likewise, use a pastry cutter or a fork to break up the butter into small pieces, to resemble corn meal.

Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla or rum and almond extracts and mix until the dough comes together as above picture. If you are making the batter to pour, rather than pat into a pan, add the lemon juice and the sour cream (or milk).

For the dough: Divide dough into two pieces, form discs one slightly larger than the other and wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate 90mins. After the resting period, you are to pat the larger disk into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread on the preserves and/or pastry cream atop the bottom layer of dough. With the second disk, using a lightly floured surface, roll out with a rolling pin or dowel to make a circle that will cover the top of the preserves. You can gently overlap the bottom layer overhang with the top layer to fully encase the filling.

For the batter: carefully scoop out about half the batter into the prepared pan. Plop on and spread out the preserves in an even layer. Scoop out the remaining batter on top of the preserves, and gently coax the batter to cover the preserves (doesn’t have to be perfect!).
For the egg yolk wash and baking: Whisk the egg yolk and 1 teaspoon milk thoroughly. With a pastry brush or your fingers, wipe an even layer across the top of the cake. With a fork, make diagonals with the tines, or make any design you wish to appear on the cake after baking. 

Bake the cake for about 40 minutes, until the cake is a deep golden brown on top. Allow the cake to cool a bit before un-molding from the pan. 

Slice and serve with sour cream spiked with honey, crème fraiche, yogurt or a custard sauce.


  1. Sounds divine! Now, how could one make the cake vegan ? Do you think arrow root powder would suffice in this case ? I usually do 1.5 t. arrow root powder + 2 T. warm water. Maybe an olive oil glaze or almond milk glaze ???

  2. The only way to know: try it! It will be different, for sure, but you would end up with a delicious cake. And yeah, I would imagine that soy or almond milk, may even mixed with a dash of honey or sugar to help know?! Happy Baking...!