For the last couple years, I have posted Facebook pix of Matt’s birthday cake, which is always pastel vasco. In response to a few recipe requests, voila, my first cooking post. I didn’t know I’d be posting this, or I’d have made a bunch more food-porny photos. Too late now, it’s all gone!
Pastel vasco, also known as gateau basque, is the national pie/cake of the Basque people in southwest France/northeast Spain. Matt and I first had it (basically everywhere) in San Sebastian/Donostia (that’s the Basque name for the town) in 2006, and Matt fell deeply in love. Me too, although perhaps not as ardently.
It’s a sablée crust (like a soft, short, cookie-ish crust) made with toasted almond flour and filled with pastry cream, basically. Often the cream and crust bake together and meld to such a degree that it’s hard to tell that there is a filling at all; it just tastes like perfectly eggy, creamy, almondy dense cookie-cake. The French version often includes cherry jam, but we feel that is gilding the lily. It is perfect just as is.
I searched high and low and eventually found this recipe, which I modified slightly, and now make for Matt’s birthday every year. In Spain, we usually had it as a breakfast pastry, which is also an impeccable idea.
The base recipe is for a tart pan of 20 cm (about 7.8 in), and could stretch to 22 cm (8.6 in). I usually do a 1.5 quantity for an 11 inch removable-bottom tart pan. The picture is a cake I made in another pan—a 9-inch springform cake pan. Did a single quantity for that one, which was perfect. There’s a certain amount of process here, lots of steps and at least one weird ingredient, but unlike a lot of cakes, it’s very forgiving. Even if you totally screw up the crust, once it’s baked, it’ll be hard to tell.
Americans: this recipe is in grams. Sorry. You can do the conversion if you like, but really, it’s a lot better to just get a scale that does metric and use that. So much more accurate and easier.
Everyone: I’ve written this recipe as I prefer to read it, with the applicable ingredients before the action you take. Ingredients are therefore listed throughout the recipe.
Dough for crust (top and bottom)
160 g pastry flour
2-3 g baking powder
salt- a few pinches. Don’t skip salt.
sift together and reserve.
120 g butter 100 g brown sugar
blend the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon or mixer.
60 g toasted almond flour
1 egg yolk (if increasing by a half quantity like I do, doesn’t hurt to use 2)
10 g of vanilla sugar ( ½ t. of powdered vanilla or a half pod, or 1 t. vanilla extract)
blend the almond flour, egg yolk and vanilla into the butter and sugar.
Note re: toasted almond flour. You can buy this in France, but in the US, I would buy whole raw almonds, blanch and peel them, toast them, then grind in the food processor. It’s a pain, but I’d usually make a double or quadruple batch of almond flour and keep it in the freezer for next time. It’s also not really “flour”. It’s finely ground but grainy.
Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar etc. bit by bit, and mix just enough to homogenize. I have a feeling that you could do all this in the food processor no problem, but I never have. Form the dough into two disks, wrap them up, and refrigerate for an hour or more. Again, you can also double the crust recipe and freeze half of it for later. Like most pastry, it freezes beautifully.
Almond pastry cream
175 ml. whole milk
75 ml. cream
½ vanilla pod, cut lengthwise or 1 t vanilla extract (if using extract, mix it into eggs, below, not the milk)
Combine, bring to a boil and then let sit for a few minutes while mixing eggs. (if using vanilla pod, take seeds out, and put the whole pod in to the milk–steep for a while)
2 egg yolks
60 g sugar
30 g pastry flour
2 T toasted almond flour
Beat the egg yolks with sugar until light in color. Put in the flour and the almond flour, and beat it into paste. Pour in the hot milk without stopping the mixer.
Put everything back into the milk pot, and put it on the stove over low heat. Stir continuously until the cream is thick and smooth. Really. Stir it the whole time or you’ll have it curdling. About 10 mins.
Zest of one orange
25 g butter
Take off the fire and add orange zest. Mix well. If you don’t have an orange handy, just leave it out. Still fab. You can also mix in a bit of rum or maraschino liqueur, but we don’t.
Let it cool a little, add the butter, and stir until it’s incorporated.
Cool before use. If it won’t be used soon, put plastic film on the surface to prevent a skin forming.
to paint the crust:
one egg yolk
Preheat oven to 180º C [350F]. Butter and flour a 20-22 cm. (8 to 9 in) springform pan.
Get the crust out and, on a floured surface, press it into a larger disk with your fingers. It will crack and come apart. Just press it back together.
When it’s like 7 inches across (like a vinyl single), flip it onto a sheet of parchment paper and roll it out. The crust is just too weak to be lifted without assistance once it’s rolled thin, so this is what I’ve come up with.
Invert the parchment paper over the pan and peel it off carefully, then tuck the crust into the corners. patch it with bits if need be. Poke it all over with a fork (so the cream melds with it) and pour the cream in.
Roll out the second disk on the same parchment paper, flip it and cover the cream. Cut the edges clean, and press them together to seal.
Mix the egg yolk with a little water, and use a pastry brush to paint the whole surface. Use a fork to make like a plaid pattern (or whatever you want, but a plaid is traditional). Be GENTLE. it breaks easy.
Bake for about 40-45 minutes, until nice and tasty looking. Let it cool before cutting, or it’ll be a mess. A delicious mess, but still, after all that work, it pays to be careful!
Crust offcuts make fantastic cookies, BTW. Just form them into little squares, paint with egg, and use the fork on them, too.