You'll have to forgive my absence. The past three weeks have been an anomalous concert of events. School seems to increasingly exhaust me. I've had more 9pm bedtimes lately than I care to admit. I traveled home for a weekend to visit Mark, my kitties, my friends and family, a few donkeys and one very overgrown yet fruitful garden. I spent another weekend celebrating my birthday. And this weekend? Well, this weekend Mark comes for a visit. At this very moment I have three long hours to kill before I get to go fetch him from the airport and I cannot wait. Lucky you, you get to read along while I twiddle my thumbs with increasing impatience.
So what can I tell you as I sit here anxiously awaiting Mark's arrival? Should I tell you about pie? Should I tell you how all of the glorious puff pastry, all of the Marie-Antoinette style sweets, all of the lovingly laminated croissants didn't bring anything remotely equal to the joy my class collectively experienced on the day we made good ole' humble American pies? It's a funny thing, pies. Sure, we all get a little excited to taste what we make, but on pie day we dropped everything, pulled out some ice cream and dug in. I've never seen all of us so thrilled about a single food before. There is nothing like pie. I was really touched by that day. It was a reminder that humble, familiar and homey sweets will always have a place in our hearts and will always be home, no matter how worldly our taste becomes.
What else can I tell you? Should I tell you how my roommates dropped everything the day before my birthday to bake an extravagant meal with me so I wouldn't be sad spending my birthday so far from home? It was the day after the pie feast and I had four pies to share. I spent that Saturday in the pastry lab at school. I stumbled home in time to throw together a few calzones. Around me there was a whirlwind of action as sushi and salads were thrown together, wine was poured and old and new friends appeared for an impromptu little meal. It was divine.
Or should I tell you about the Gateau Basque baking binge I went on last week? Should I tell you how I obsessed over this simple dessert for so long that nothing would satisfy my curiosity about it short of baking three versions of it in a single morning? I don't know why, but I do know almost everyone at my school has a pastry or a bread they can't get enough of. Oh, and naturally, everyone's obsession seems to shift weekly. Me? I've gone from gibassier to fig bread to Gateau Basque to honey cream scones to bran blueberry muffins. This latest obsession I blame solely on my horror at my own ever-expanding butter consumption. I fully expect to switch obsessions to tempering chocolate in approximately one week. I received this book for my birthday and have looked at it at least once daily every since. I do indeed see a chocolate desserts day in my very near future.
I digress, where was I? Oh yes, Gateau Basque. I have no logical explanation for how this fruit and custard-filled torte or cake or, let's just say gateau, slipped into my everyday conversations. I read about it on the internet and was mildly curious, but let's face it, only because it was Basque. And even that's a pretty silly reason to be interested in something. Nonetheless, my curiosity was piqued. Then, last month, I slipped into Boulette's Larder in the Ferry Building. Gateau Basque was sitting right smack way dab off on the corner of the counter where my eye was immediately drawn to it. I ordered it, I ate it, I proclaimed it outstandingly fantastically delicious and at that moment an idea was hatched. I would research recipes, consolidate ideas and find the perfect Gateau Basque recipe.
It all seems so simple, such an iron-clad plan. And it was... or was it? I simply found three very different recipes and executed them, using identical custard and fruit fillings. The difference was in the "crust". It's more of a dense cookie than a crust, but that's just semantics. Over the course of two days I made these "crusts", assembled and filled the gateaus and baked them. I then anxiously awaited the results (the results being my classmates' reactions, these reactions which would surely help me answer my most pressing question, which is the perfect gateau basque recipe??).
Here's the catch, here's the place where the plan becomes less than iron-clad. I disagree with my classmates' assessment of the best gateau. It seems improbable that the one voice of dissent would be my own, until I explain why. As I said, I tried three recipes. One was painfully boring, so it doesn't merit mention. One was drop everything delicious. The "crust" was rich, heavily scented with orange, lemon and almond and short, as in butter-y. Also, it was authentic. It's comical, me saying that, me never having been anywhere remotely Basque, my only Gateau Basque being from a cafe disguised as a larder in San Francisco. I think my reasoning here, my sense, is based on the fact that this particular Gateau Basque recipe was not too sweet, not too complicated and resembled much more the other recipes I found in that it was a short crust that wasn't too heavily sweetened. This particular one, this one was just far far richer and more intensely flavored.
The third, well, I'll say it, the third was incredible. It was sweet, it was crispy, but soft in all the right places, it was almond-y and lemon-y, and did I mention? It was sweet. It just seemed too sweet. It also seemed too decadent. It lacked the rustic simple flavors of the other Gateau Basque. However, no lie, it was super super delicious.
So now that I've waxed poetic all up in this Gateau Basque, I invite you to take up the challenge. Help a sister out here and try these two recipes. You won't be sorry at all. Not even a little. Both of them are fantastic recipes. Just make me a promise... let me know what you think because I'm curious.
The "authentic" recipe, which probably really is authentic based on the blog post which accompanies it (read it, it's pretty funny) is from Chefs Gone Wild. The decadent sweeter version is from Food & Wine (by way of Daniel Boulud). I didn't deviate from either recipe, short of converting the Food & Wine version to weights instead of cups. I used a standard custard recipe. I recommend using the recipes accompanying each gateau recipe. They'll yield the same results. Oh - and I put fresh blackberries in my tarts instead of the preserves. So have at it!