Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Claudia's Gateau Basque

OK, so actually it's RelishMag's gateau basque, but remember how I said Claudia fed us until we were about to pop? This was one of our very favorite dishes. We really relished it.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I visited friends in the Basque region of France. We stayed in the resort town of Biarritz, where we ate pain au chocolat and cherries and delicious butter so unerved in its own ink (so good, and a lot of fun: you can take a drop of ink and make your own mole a la Marilyn Monroe!). We sunbathed topless and watched the tandem (two people to a board) section of the surfing festival.

Interesting social more of some nude beaches: if you're single, then you keep your top on. If you're dating somebody or otherwise taken, then anything goes. I found it somewhat backward and ironic at first, but there is something to be said for keeping the girls covered: men find it more alluring and enjoy having something left to the imagination. So all my single ladies, if you want him to put a ring on it, cover it up. If not, wear good sunscreen, and don't forget to reapply.


One morning after a particularly long night with the delectable Izarra, and having been awoken by the dulcet tones of a brass trumpet played by a rocket scientist as the base of the stairs (Really. I'm not creative enough to make this up.), we decided to drive across the border to a restaurant in Spain. The Basque Region is an achingly-beautiful one. The trees were so dense that the only sunlight available was filtered through their huge emerald and golden leaves. Pocked with immense moss-covered boulders, the terrain was rugged and mysterious. The road was narrow and curvy, and combined with the festivities of the previous night, I was soon overcome by a highly unusual case of motion sickness. The changes in altitude, switchbacks, hairpins, and constantly changing focus to take in the exquisite landscape around me was almost too much.refined that you could see the fat and salt in it. I was introduced to the luxury of olives stuffed with anchovies and the most fascinating acid-green liquor called green Izarra. It was the first time I ever appreciated squid sBut just as soon as I realized I wasn't feeling well, we arrived at a large rustic cabin with red shutters on a hill in the woods. The view was impeccable. The food was the best I had ever tasted, and I experienced a miraculously speedy recovery. This was the authentic stuff to which Williams-Sonoma chefs aspire. Homemade cheeses served on a slab of marble. Hand-kneaded artisan breads still warm from the oven. Simple, rustic stewed meat dishes with seasonings and resultant aromas developed and handed down through the family over centuries.
We ate until we could stand no more, and then the lady of the house brought us a gateau much like this one.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Custard filling:3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To prepare dough, combine flour, almonds, baking powder and salt.
2. Combine butter and sugar; beat with a mixer at medium speed until creamy.
- Add egg yolks and vanilla; mix until smooth.
- While mixing, slowly add flour mixture.
- Beat until thoroughly combined and mixture clings together when pressed against the side of bowl.
- Divide into 2 portions, with one portion slightly larger than the other.
- Flatten each into a disk; wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. 3. To prepare custard filling, heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. - Whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.
- When milk mixture is hot, slowly drizzle it into yolk mixture while vigorously whisking.
- Return mixture to pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until custard becomes very thick. (If lumps form, whisk until smooth.)
- Stir in vanilla.
- Transfer custard to a medium bowl.
- Place plastic wrap directly on top of custard.
- Refrigerate 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 400F.
- Butter bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.
5. To assemble, roll larger portion of dough into a 101/2-inch round (dough will be thick).
- Place in bottom of pan, pressing excess dough up the inside edge of pan.
- Add filling, spreading evenly.
- Roll remaining dough into a 9-inch round.
- Place on top of dough and filling in pan; press edges of dough to seal and form a rim.
- Place on baking sheet.
- Bake 20 minutes.
- Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking 15 minutes, or until cake is golden brown.
- Cool on a wire rack at least 45 minutes before serving.
- Slice using a serrated knife.
- Refrigerate remaining cake after serving.
Serves 10. Recipe by Tara McElhose-Eiguren and Charles Smothermon, "Basque in the Flavor," Sept. 2009.
I found a small, delightfully wrapped package in my bag while on the train back to Montpellier. My dear friend Marianne had given me the treasure of a sterling Basque cross, or lauburu, just like the one below. Legend has it that this cross was the one worn by some Crusaders during the 12th century because it wasn't readily recognized as the Christian cross.

Now whenever we travel I still wear this cross and have often found comfort in it. Friends have said it looks like a boat propeller or even a swastika, but those weren't used until the 19th century. This symbol is easily recognized in southern France and northeastern Spain and is traditionally placed on top of a gateau basque, either in dough form or by cutting the dough. Years later, in Merida, Mexico, a fellow traveler crossed the street and started a conversation with me because it reminded her of home.
So there you have it. Food, nudity, geography, and a sociology lesson all wrapped up in a neat little package!

Photos courtesy of RelishMag, biology-blog, and jewelmarketplace.



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