Gateau Basque: A Perfect Cake For The Holidays Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan has an unusual dessert in her repertoire that's perfect for the holidays -- a gateau Basque from southwestern France. The cake is sturdy, easy to transport and can be eaten any time of day. What makes it so intriguing is that it has a clue as to what's baked inside, Greenspan says.
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Gateau Basque: A Perfect Cake For The Holidays

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Gateau Basque: A Perfect Cake For The Holidays

Gateau Basque: A Perfect Cake For The Holidays

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. Even though Michele Norris is off today, she didn't want to leave us without something sweet for Christmas.


A sweet that's easy to make and perfect for your holiday table, a Gateau Basque. It's a simple cake with filling, kind of like a tart. It's a specialty from the Pays Basque region of France. And it comes to us by way of Dorie Greenspan.

DORIE GREENSPAN: You're going to let it go for minute and then grab an egg.

NORRIS: She is the author of "Baking: From My Home to Yours." She came to my home recently for what's become our annual holiday baking soiree. It's down there. And if you know anything about Dorie Greenspan, you know she's a (unintelligible) style. Over the years, she has taught us to make a Tarte Tatin, where we learned to caramelize apple, then for the coupe de grace with a cast-iron skillet. And we created hors d oeuvres with puff pastry using a classic French dough called a pate a choux, a cabbage dough. Today, it's all about gateau Basque.

GREENSPAN: It's called a cake and normally when you think of cake you think of batter. But this isn't a batter. This is really a dough.

NORRIS: A dense dough that even captures our mighty mixer. Dorie says the cake will be dry but delicious.

GREENSPAN: The cake is your clue of what's inside. If the cake is filled with pastry cream, then it has a kind of cross-hatch pattern on the top. If it's filled with cherry jam, it has a Basque cross on it. And I never make enough extra cake dough to make that little cross. But I love filling the cake with jam. So mine is like a hybrid. I always fill it with jam but do the cross- hatch pattern that would be for pastry creme.

NORRIS: Okay. Now, if you were actually (unintelligible) would be very confusing to know.


GREENSPAN: They probably come back and complained, I didn't get what - I didn't get what I wanted. You could pat it out like that.

NORRIS: The dough for Gateau Basque is a basic butter, sugar, eggs, flour combination with vanilla and baking powder too. And it's not to be overly mixed. Dorie pats the dough into two disks and then rolls out two circles slightly bigger than eight inches in diameter. That's the top and the bottom of the Gateau Basque, but it's got to be refrigerated before we can go on. Okay.

Now while we wait, Dorie tells me about her recent visit to Basque country. It's an area about the size of Rhode Island, straddling the border between Spain and France with a distinct culture and distinct cuisine. Dorie and her husband were on the French side enduring the stock peppers and, of course, this cake. She says she pretty much ate Gateau Basque morning, noon and night at the hotel, in the cafe, at the markets, and then serendipity.

GREENSPAN: We're driving around on one these little winding mountain roads, and there's a sign that says, the museum of the Gateau Basque. I can't even begin to tell you, just seeing the sign, how excited it may be. The idea that there could be a museum devoted just to a cake, I mean, it won my heart, of course. We followed the signs and it was a house.

And there was what I assumed is the museum. Since we've walked around, we're the only people there poked our noses around. And by the time we got back to the kiosk, the place was jammed. And as it turned out, it wasn't so much a museum as a baking demonstration. The chef - he stood at his table, and in front him, he had what look like an acre of dough.

He said, now, you have to taste this dough. And he grabbed just a hunk of it. And just passed it to the first person on the first pew and that person, kind of, took off a chunk and passed it to the next person. And I thought, okay, we're no longer in America. Nobody said, oh, wear your plastic gloves. Oh, I don't want to eat the dough you're eating. Oh, they are raw eggs. People just nibbled the dough and tasted it. And then...

NORRIS: And created a sense of communion in that act also. You're all together on that point.

GREENSPAN: Well, it's almost - it's funny because I still passed it to the first person in the pew is the way we were sitting it. If we will break in a sense, breaking bridge, you're right, it was - it did create a kind of up community, because we all started to talk to one another about what it tasted like. The chef had really devoted this part of his life to making Gateau Basque.

NORRIS: It turns out the chef worked in New York with a chef Dorie knew quite well. It was a small world after all.

GREENSPAN: Let's get the dough out of the fridge...

NORRIS: So, back to work in my kitchen, two circles of dough thoroughly chilled. We washed our hands and it's time to put together our Gateau Basque.

GREENSPAN: Yes, we're baking, but it's also - it's his own little arts and crafts project that choice. So...

NORRIS: Dorie takes that rolled out circle of dough and presses it into the bottom of a greased 8-inch cake pad like she's making pie. And don't worry, complete instructions are on our Web site, Next in our process comes the filling.

GREENSPAN: Yep. I'd used a lot of things inside of it. Whatever jam I'd had in the refrigerator - it's great with blueberry - it's actually nice with cranberry relish inside it, not savory relish but like a cranberry sauce. It's good with lemon curd. You can really play around with it. It won't be traditional but it will good.

NORRIS: You will need about three quarters of a cup of whatever filling you choose and a little bit of water to help fill the top to the bottom of the dough. And baker's luck, there's just enough leftover dough for us to fashion a Basque cross. It looks like a flattened pinwheel on the top of the cake, a signal that this cake is full of jam. Into the oven at 350 degrees and out about 40 minutes later, and then into our mouth.

GREENSPAN: Remember I said it's a dry cake? I'm always afraid to use the word dry with cake because it sounds like a fault. But in this case, I don't - it's not at all. You have that...

NORRIS: Right. It's not like something that wasn't stored well.

GREENSPAN: Exactly. You have the jam filling with just - by its nature, moist. And then the cake which is a little like cookie, a little like pie, a little like cake. It's one of the most unusual desserts I know.

NORRIS: And I don't mean to disrespect, but if a Pop-Tart...

GREENSPAN: I know exactly...


NORRIS: ...moves up in the world and became a bit more elegant, this is what it might taste like.

GREENSPAN: It's a perfect, perfect description of it. You're right. So, a grownup Pop-Tart.

NORRIS: Well, when we bring you in to bake, we're hoping that this is a wonderful journey for the listener as well. And if I may say, I hope that this is one recipe that the listeners really do embrace. If you're a baker, please try this one.

GREENSPAN: Oh, I hope so.

NORRIS: If you're not a baker, find someone who is...


GREENSPAN: Have them make (unintelligible)...

NORRIS: ...have them make one of this for you.


NORRIS: Or bake it with them, that's even better.

GREENSPAN: Bake it with them. Bake it with them.

NORRIS: Now, one way or another, get close to this because it's delicious.

GREENSPAN: Oh, I'm so glad you liked it. I'm so glad.

NORRIS: Happy holidays.

GREENSPAN: Happy holidays.


NORRIS: Dorie Greenspan is the author of "Baking: From My Home to Yours."

SIEGEL: And as Michele promised, you can find the recipe for Gateau Basque at our Web site,

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