Gateau Basque is my favorite kind of dessert: simple in concept (if not in execution), not too sweet, and suitable for any occasion or time of the day. It’s essentially a sturdy tart, native to the French Basque country, comprised of either pastry cream or cherry preserves baked between layers of a cookie-like crust. For this version, I incorporated fresh cherries with the pastry cream in a best-of-both-worlds hybrid.
I’ve wanted to try my hand at a version of Gateau Basque since Dorie Greenspan wrote about it in this piece, and I thought developing and sharing my own version would be a perfect way to inaugurate this space—a Recipe Journal where I will occasionally share new, original recipes. The purpose of keeping a Recipe Journal is to share the things I am working on at home, just for fun, and to provide a small glimpse into the recipe development process.
This recipe makes a substantial, transportable, 9” tart that will hold well for several days. I cooked fresh sweet cherries (though frozen will work just as well) in brandy and demerara sugar just to the point where the fruit is soft and the juices are syrupy, then brightened it with fresh lemon juice. The zest of the lemon goes into the pastry cream along with plenty of vanilla. I included almond extract in the tart dough because I love the flavor combination of cherries + almond + lemon.
I recommend making each component the day before and chilling individually overnight before assembling and baking. Not only does it help the tart to have everything well chilled during assembly, it significantly eases the burden of making this not-uncomplicated (but very delicious) tart.
So here it is—the first recipe in the journal. I’ll try to provide explanatory process photos where helpful, and please leave your thoughts or questions in the comments. I imagine a lot of the recipes here will be baking, but check back for whatever is holding my attention at the moment. See you soon.
12 oz. fresh or frozen pitted sweet cherries (about 2½ cups; if using frozen, no need to thaw first)
2 Tbsp. brandy
3 Tbsp. turbinado sugar
Pinch kosher salt, preferably Diamond
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped to remove seeds, or 1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract or paste
Finely grated zest of one lemon (about 2 tsp.)
½ tsp. kosher salt, preferably Diamond
½ cup granulated sugar
5 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 large egg
5 large egg yolks
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, cold
PASTRY CRUST AND ASSEMBLY
1 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. kosher salt, preferably Diamond
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and pan
10 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
¾ cup turbinado sugar
2 large eggs, divided
1 large egg yolk
½ tsp. almond extract
Special Equipment: 9” fluted tart pan with removable bottom
Combine cherries, brandy, turbinado sugar, and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved, until cherries have released their juices, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, adjusting heat if necessary so mixture is simmering briskly and occasionally swirling pot, until cherries are soft and juices have thickened to form a syrup, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool; stir in lemon juice. You should have about 1 cup of cherries swimming in about 3 tablespoons of thick syrup. Cover and chill until cold (syrup will thicken as it cools). DO AHEAD: Compote can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.
Combine milk, vanilla bean (pod plus scrapings), lemon zest, and salt in a medium saucepan. Set over medium-low heat and let come slowly to a simmer, whisking occasionally, to infuse the flavors into the milk. While the milk is heating, combine the granulated sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl; set aside. Place a fine mesh strainer over top of a separate large bowl and set aside.
Once the milk is gently simmering, add whole egg and yolks to bowl with cornstarch and sugar. Whisk vigorously until mixture is smooth and thickened and the color has paled several shades, about 2 minutes. Using a ladle, transfer about half of the hot milk mixture into the bowl with egg mixture, slowly streaming in milk and whisking all the while to gradually raise the temperature of the eggs (this is to prevent curdling). Whisking constantly, stream egg mixture back into saucepan and cook, increasing heat to medium and whisking vigorously and constantly, until foam has subsided and pastry cream has thickened to the point where it holds the marks of the whisk, about 3 minutes. It’s important to cook out the cornstarch but at the same time avoid scrambling the eggs -- when you pause whisking for a few seconds, the mixture should start to bubble. If this isn’t happening or the cream isn’t thickening, increase heat slightly and keep going, just make sure you continue to whisk.
Scrape pastry cream into mesh strainer set over bowl and use the whisk to press the mixture through the mesh into the bowl, catching any solids or pieces of cooked egg in the process (discard solids). Whisk butter into hot pastry cream one piece at a time until smooth. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface of pastry cream and chill until set and cold, at least 4 hours. DO AHEAD: Pastry cream can be made 3 days ahead. Keep chilled.
PASTRY CRUST AND ASSEMBLY
Whisk baking powder, kosher salt, and 2 cups flour in a medium bowl to combine; set aside. Beat 10 Tbsp. butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment just until smooth (you can also use a large bowl and hand mixer). Add turbinado sugar and beat on high, scraping down sides of bowl a couple of times, until mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Because you’re using turbinado sugar, the mixture might not get as fluffy as it would if you were using granulated (the sugar crystals also won’t dissolve into the dough, but they will during baking).
Turn off mixer and scrape down sides of bowl, then add 1 whole egg, yolk, and almond extract. Beat on medium-high until mixture has increased in volume and is lighter than before, about 2 minutes. Decrease mixer speed to low and add flour mixture in two additions, beating briefly in between to incorporate. Continue to mix just until no flour spots remain. Knead dough inside bowl with clean hands a couple of times to make sure it’s homogenous, then divide in half, making one piece slightly larger than the other. Form dough into discs, wrap tightly in plastic, and chill until cold, at least 2 hours.
Arrange rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9” fluted tart pan with removable bottom with a thin layer of butter, then dust all over with flour, tapping out excess; set aside.
Remove the larger half of dough from refrigerator and divide that piece in half. Grasping one of the halves, use your thumb and fingers to pinch off small pieces of dough, squeezing to soften slightly, and placing all the pieces around fluted sides of tart pan. Press the pieces firmly against the sides of the pan to create an edge of even thickness all the way around. Pinch remaining half of dough in the same manner, scattering pieces across bottom. Use your fingertips to press dough into an even layer across bottom and smoothing where the bottom meets the sides. You can lightly flour your hands if the dough is getting sticky. For a very smooth bottom crust, use a straight-sided measuring cup dipped in flour to work dough across bottom and against sides. Chill bottom crust until cold, about 20 minutes.
Scrape cherry mixture into bottom of chilled tart crust, arranging cherries and juices evenly across surface. Whisk chilled pastry cream until smooth and then dollop over top of cherries, spreading with the back of a spoon into an even layer all the way to the edges (it’s okay if some cherry juices pool over top). Place tart back in refrigerator while you roll out the top.
Remove second half of crust, unwrap, and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out into an even round slightly larger than the tart ring, frequently flipping dough and dusting with more flour to prevent sticking (this dough will quickly soften and become hard to work with; take a break from rolling and chill briefly if this happens). Transfer round to a plate and chill until firm again, about 10 minutes.
Beat the remaining whole egg in a small bowl with a fork until streak-free. Use a pastry brush and dab a thin layer of egg around the edge of the dough. Slide round of dough off plate over top of tart pan and press gently to eliminate air pockets between pastry and cream. Press firmly around edge so top crust adheres to the sides, and pinch off overhang so dough is flush with fluted edge. Brush egg wash across surface of top crust, then gently scrape the tines of a fork across top to create a decorative cross-hatch pattern. Chill tart again until cold (I know, it’s a process!), 15-20 minutes.
Bake tart until pastry is shiny and deep golden brown, 45-55 minutes. Let cool completely before removing outer ring and serving. DO AHEAD: Dough can be made three days ahead or frozen 1 month ahead. Let thaw overnight in refrigerator before using. Tart can be made 3 days ahead, but make the day before for best results. I have left this tart out on my counter for two days before covering and chilling for three more days (at which we eventually ate it down). Chilling will soften the pastry, but the flavor only seems to improve with time.