When I was a kid, my grandmother had a big bottle of beads, sequins, buttons and other glitter. She used it for her embroidery work and knitting, and treasured it in a cupboard in a corner. When I went to her house, which was often, I used to look at it and think of owning that treasure some day. I don’t do any embroidery work, but I badly wanted that bottle. May be because it was so important to her, that I felt I had to take it and keep it safe.
About 2 years back, a couple of days after she passed away, I went to look for that bottle and take it over. But to my utter dismay, it was not there. Nobody thought it was important, and I think it just went to trash. I almost cried. My grandma had handled it everyday. It had her feel, her smell, and now it was gone. My mom reasoned to me saying ‘what use did I have of those mismatched beads?’. May be that mismatched beautiful mosaic made me see life in technicolor. Or may be it was just the Cancerian in me which wanted to hold on to things, of the past. But I could not hold on to it and it was gone. Eventually forgotten.
And then when I went to a flea market in Paris, it came back to me. Those antiques were a part of someone’s life just like my grandma. I had a good time looking at them, but never ever will they mean as much to anyone as much they did to the original owner. May be someone sat at that desk and wrote the best lines they had ever written, or may be that necklace was gifted to a new bride by her husband, or someone’s mom made delicious food in that copper pot, everyday, for years. We might never know the story, but only imagine some.
My wonderful friend and host in Paris, Danielle (I feel very odd to call a 71 year old lady by her name, but that’s the way it is in Europe), she has some amazing stuff collected over years. Her husband’s illustrations, old books which her kids used, a few books written by her and her husband, souvenirs collected from places she visited and much more. It’s like an art gallery right here in her house. I wonder what will happen to it all when she does not need it anymore. Her husband’s drawings will go to the museum. But I hope her kids and grand-kids would take the stuff they like, before it is too late.
On another note, Paris is getting colder but more beautiful as Christmas approaches. The city of lights is really getting lit up, from the streets, to malls to big and small Christmas trees in front of shops. And of course, the Eiffel tower. The sparkling tower looks like a zillion stars just twinkled at the same time on a clear winter sky. And its visible as soon as we leave our school. One day, it literally pulled me in its direction and without any map or guide I simply walked and walked till I reached Tour Eiffel. Almost an hour’s walk in the cold windy Paris. But it was like discovering the tower myself from the other side, with autumn leaves still hanging for the last breath.
It’s hard to imagine that we have already completed three weeks and 15 traditional French recipes at school. Everyone in school has developed dislike for anything sweet now and nobody even tastes the pastries anymore. Duh! Not me. I love every bit of it. Especially if it has some alcohol in it like the Grand Marnier, Cointreau or even rum. Its delicious. I can never tire of it. Period.
Today, I will be writing about this very traditional 17th Century cake called The Gâteau Basque (Butter cake with pastry cream) from the Basque region of Southern France. It’s rich, smooth and filled with delicious pastry cream and cherries. A recipe which was taught to us at the Le Cordon Bleu, it’s a classic and very French. The list of ingredients and step-by-step recipe is going to be a bit long, but don’t worry it is quite easy to make.
Gâteau Basque (Butter cake with pastry cream)
Time taken to make : about 2 hours and Serves : about 8 people
What you will need:
- 250 gm unsalted butter, cold and diced into small pieces
- 200 gm powdered sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 260 all-purpose flour
- 5 gm baking powder
- 300 ml milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 60 gm powdered sugar
- 20 gm flour
- 20 gm custard powder / cornstarch
- 20 ml Cointreau (optional, but highly recommended)
- 150 gm cherries
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, to glaze
What to do :
- In a clean dry bowl, take sifted flour, powdered sugar, baking powder and a pinch of vanilla.
- Add cold butter cut into cubes. Then with your fingers break the cubes of butter and mix it with the flour mixture.
- Once roughly incorporates, take it on a work surface or countertop.
- Make a well in the center and add egg yolks. Mix it with a pastry scraper and knead the dough with hands, till there are no more lumps of butter. Be careful to not overwork the dough.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle some flour on it.
- Take the dough and roughly divide it into two parts – 2/3rd and 1/3rd. Flatten it into a disk and let it rest in the fridge.
- For the pastry cream, take milk in a big saucepan, add some vanilla and then add half of the sugar and put it to boil.
- Meanwhile in another bowl, add the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar, Whisk well till it becomes frothy and pale in color.
- Add flour and custard powder to the egg yolk and sugar mixture and mix well.
- Once the milk comes to a boil, take it off the heat and add 1/3rd of it to the egg yolk mixture. Once totally combined, add this mixture to the rest of the milk and again heat it for 1-2 minutes, till the mixture begins to thicken. Remove it in a separate bowl, give it a good whisk and put it in the fridge for cooling. Add the Cointreau/ rum.
- Take a 20 cm ring mold or a springform pan, and generously butter it with softened butter.
- Take out the dough and on a well floured surface roll the larger dough disk into a circle about 2-3 cms bigger than the mold.
- With the mold firmly placed on a parchment paper on a baking tray, lift up the dough circle and place it on the mold. Press along the sides so that the dough sticks to the buttered mold. Let the excess dough flip over on the sides.
- Take out the pastry cream once cooled and with a piping bag and tip # 10 / 12, pipe the pastry cream on the dough disk in circles.
- Put some cherries in the pastry cream and gently push them down. Be careful to not push all the way through or it might pierce the dough at the bottom.
- Take the other 1/3rd dough disk and roll it into a thin circle. Place it on top of the dough in the mold with the pastry cream. Gently seal both the dough circles together on the rim of the mold and trim off the excess with a knife.
- Glaze the top with an egg wash of lightly whisked egg for getting a light caramel color on top.
- Bake this cake in a pre-heated oven at about 160°C for about 30-40 mins, till the dough looks cooked.
- Take it out and let it cool for a couple of minutes, but then un-mold it when it is still warm.
This cake tastes better at room temperature once totally cooled. So plan in advance, and enjoy this French dessert.
- The pastry cream is delicious on its own. Just mix with some citrusy fruits like oranges, or even strawberries and make a healthy dessert.
- Be careful while un-molding the cake, as it is a bit fragile with all the pastry cream inside.
- This cake can be stored int he refrigerator easily for upto 3 days.