Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm Here, but Not Really - Gateau Basque aux Cerises Noires

After graduation, my husband and I did a whirlwind tour of three weddings in two weeks and then flew out to Guéthary, France for six weeks, where his parents are now spending half the year. Needless to say, it's hard to be back, especially in the face of economic crisis and joblessness. Oh well... or, rather, tant pis. I promised my father-in-law that when we meet for Thanksgiving, I would make what we enjoyed eating so much during our six weeks en famille: un gateau basque aux cerises noires. Thanksgiving is, incredibly enough, right around the corner and so I thought I'd better get practicing.

I'm not a good baker. My husband hates my cookies and my passive-aggressive way of handling this is to just not make them anymore. (There, take that, Asshole!) But, my love for this amazingly buttery, almondy, shortbready cake filled with dark, sweet Itxassou cherry preserves prevailed and I was determined to be able to enjoy the comforts of French Basque country in my own home in New York. Before leaving Guéthary, I stocked up on four pots of cherry preserves and brought them over to my tiny, but temporary city apartment.

I did some research on recipes and collected about eight of them. Most recipes were for the creme version, which, to be honest, just doesn't do it for me. I prefer the cherry version and the recipe is easily corrected by ignoring the cream part! According to Mark Kurlansky, in his The Basque History of the World, the cherry version is original, anyway.

Once I was ready (about two months after first starting the study), I dove in. The cake dough was too loose and did not roll out well, leading to a mini disaster with the top layer crumbling into the cherries. I, being stubborn, wasn't about to give up. I picked out the broken crust pieces and re-kneaded with some more flour to hold it together. The finished top was a bit purple, stained by the lust of its cherry affair, but I threw it in the oven anyway. When it came out, it looked pretty darn close to what I gorged on over the summer.

The cake is pretty hardy and resilient, just like the Basques. I was told repeatedly in France NOT to refrigerate it and that it should last five to ten days at room temperature, wrapped in plastic. I've actually never seen a cake last for more than two days, so I cannot verify truth. The cake pictured here ended up withstanding a crowded train trip out to the Hamptons for a weekend. It never came back. I hope you'll try this (corrected recipe, below) and see why I'm hooked and why this traditional cake has been around for generations and can be found today in every bakery in the southwest of France.

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