Season: All (if using frozen cherries) / Summer (if using fresh cherries) | Active Time: 1 hour 20 minutes (not including making the Pastry Cream) | Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes, plus time to cool | Difficulty: 4 (Challenging, due to multiple components and a delicate dough)
Gâteau Basque is my favorite kind of dessert: simple in concept (if not in execution; it’s a long recipe), not too sweet, and suitable for any occasion or time of the day. It’s essentially a sturdy tart, native to the French Basque country, comprising a layer of either pastry cream or cherry preserves baked inside a cookie-like double crust. For this version, I combine a sweet cherry compote with the pastry cream in a best-of-both-worlds hybrid. It’s a great entertaining dessert, and highly transportable.
Special Equipment: 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan, stand or hand mixer
12 ounces (340g) fresh or frozen pitted sweet cherries (about 2½ cups)
2 tablespoons kirsch, brandy, or rum
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
PASTRY CRUST AND ASSEMBLY
2 cups all-purpose flour (9.2 oz / 260g), plus more for rolling out
1 teaspoon baking powder (0.14 oz / 4g)
¾ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (5 oz / 142g), at room temperature
⅔ cup sugar (4.6 oz / 130g)
1 large egg yolk (0.53 oz / 16g)
2 large eggs (3.5 oz / 100g)
½ teaspoon almond extract
Butter and flour for the pan
Pastry Cream (this page)
Make the cherry compote: ① In a small saucepan, combine the cherries, kirsch, and sugar and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, until the cherries have released their juices, about 5 minutes. Continue to simmer briskly, swirling the saucepan occasionally and adjusting the heat if necessary, until the cherries are soft and the juices are reduced to a thick syrup, 10 to 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir it together the lemon juice and cornstarch with a fork until smooth, then stir it into the cherry mixture. Bring to a simmer again and cook for 20 seconds to activate the cornstarch. Remove the compote from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, and transfer to a 2-cup heatproof glass measuring cup. You should have about 1¼ cups of compote—a bit less is fine, but if you have more than an extra tablespoon or two, return it to the saucepan and cook it a bit longer. Cover and refrigerate until the compote is cold and thickened, at least 1 hour or up to 1 week.
Make the pastry: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt to combine. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer), combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium-high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides of bowl, then add the yolk, 1 whole egg, and the almond extract. Beat on medium-high until the mixture has increased in volume and paled slightly, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture in 2 additions, beating briefly in between to incorporate. Continue to mix just until no floury spots remain.
Chill the dough: Knead the dough inside the bowl a couple of times to make sure it’s homogenous, then divide it in half, making one piece slightly larger than the other. Wrap the pieces in plastic, pressing the dough into ½-inch-thick disks, and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. ②
Prepare the pan: Lightly butter the bottom and sides of the tart pan, then dust it all over with flour. Tap out the excess and set the pan aside.
Press the bottom crust into the tart pan: Remove the larger piece of dough from the refrigerator (you’re going to press this piece into the bottom of the pan; leave the other piece of dough in the refrigerator for the top). Use a knife or bench scraper to cut the dough in half, then cut one half into 6 pieces. Roll the pieces beneath your palms on the work surface to form ropes that are about ½ inch thick, then arrange the ropes around the sides of the prepared pan, overlapping slightly so there are no gaps. Using a lightly, floured straight-sided 1-cup dry measure, press the dough against the sides all the way around so it extends slightly above the top of the pan. Using lightly floured hands, press the other half of the dough into and across the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Where the bottom meets the sides, smooth and press the dough together to seal. For an extra-smooth surface, or if you notice any unevenness, use the bottom of the 1-cup measure to flatten the dough. Refrigerate the pan until the pastry is cold, about 20 minutes.
Roll out the top crust: Meanwhile, roll out the second disk of dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper into a 10-inch round, frequently flipping the dough and dusting with more flour as needed (this dough is delicate and will soften quickly; if it starts to stick, put it back in the refrigerator). Slide the dough, still on the parchment paper, onto a plate and refrigerate while you assemble the tart.
Preheat the oven: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
Assemble the tart: ③ Scrape the cold cherry mixture into the bottom of the chilled tart crust, arranging the cherries and syrup evenly across the surface. Whisk the pastry cream until it’s smooth, and then dollop it over the cherries, spreading it with the back of a spoon or a small offset spatula into an even layer all the way to the edges (it’s okay if some syrup pools around the sides). Beat the remaining whole egg in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the inner edge of tart dough with a thin layer of egg (just above the pastry cream). Remove the cold dough round from the refrigerator and slide it off the parchment paper onto the tart. Press gently starting in the center and moving outward to eliminate air pockets between the pastry and the cream. Press firmly around the edge so the top crust adheres to the sides, and pinch off the overhang. Brush more egg across the surface of the pastry, then gently scrape the tines of a fork across the top to create a decorative crosshatch pattern. Refrigerate the tart again until cold (I know, it’s a process!), 15 to 20 minutes.
Bake the tart: Bake the tart on the prepared baking sheet until the top of the tart is shiny and deep golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Let the tart cool completely (preferably up to a full day!) before removing the outer ring and serving.
The tart, covered and refrigerated, will keep up to 4 days but is best served on the first or second day (the pastry will soften over time). The cherry compote, covered and refrigerated, will keep up to 1 week. The tart dough, wrapped and refrigerated, will keep up to 2 days or can be frozen up to 1 month. Let the frozen dough thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
① Use good-quality cherry preserves in place of the cherry compote if you feel like eliminating this step.
② I recommend making and chilling each component at least 1 day ahead to lighten the workload, so all you have to do on baking day is assemble. Plus, working with well-chilled pastry and filling is much easier.
③ Hold onto your dough scraps to patch any cracks that might occur on the surface of the tart during assembly, and don’t worry if the top layer of pastry has a few imperfections prior to baking. The baking powder in the pastry causes it to puff in the oven, which will help hide flaws.