My only brush with the great Paul Bocuse was via the short-lived Melbourne outpost of his nouvelle cuisine empire. It was the early 90s in an uber cool space of whites and ivories attached to the now defunct Daimaru department store in Melbourne Central. Though I didn’t get to meet the man himself, I did meet his protege Philippe Mouchel who headed the kitchen. What the heck, he was French and I was grateful.
I inherited a Bocuse recipe book recently. A friend was culling and I pounced. I assumed it was a book I would admire rather than use, but not so. It’s full of accessible dishes that are a wonderful tour of the provinces of French home cooking. I like it.
One recipe is a for what’s called a Gâteau Basque, a ‘cake’ that originated in the kitchens of the Basque people, those fiercely independent farmers of the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain.
Now to call this a cake is deceptive. A flan maybe; a pie, a tart, but it’s not a cake. Bocuse’s picture is deceptive too, all deep and high. What this is is a buttery, lemon-scented pastry top and bottom filled with a traditional French pastry cream. Make up the quantity of pastry cream prescribed, however, and depth is not the outcome. So I’ve improvised. My gâteau Basque is a tart with some seasonal poached pears layered over the pastry cream. It works for me. And it’s delicious.
Here’s what you need:
For the pastry
• The fine zest of one good-sized lemon
• 3/4 cup of sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon of salt
• 1 egg
• 1 egg yolk
• 150 grams of softened butter
• 2 cups of plain flour
For the poached pears
• 3-4 ripe pears
• 1/2 cup of water
• 3 cloves
• 1 tablespoon of sugar
For the pastry cream
• 2 egg yolks
• 1/4 cup of sugar
• 1/4 cup of plain flour
• I tablespoon of rum
• I cup of milk
• 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
Here’s what you do:
Preheat the oven to 180c.
To make the pastry, combine the sugar, salt, lemon zest, whole egg and egg yolk in a mixing bowl and whisk by hand. Add the butter a little at a time, whisking until it’s all combined into a light yellow, lemony paste. Add the flour and work it together until a dough forms. Tip the dough out onto a well floured bench and kneed lightly until it comes together into a ball. You don’t want to overwork it. Place the dough in the fridge.
To poach the pears, peal and quarter them, removing the cores. Cut each quarter into thin slices and place in a saucepan with the water, sugar and cloves. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer and let the pears poach for about five minutes. You don’t want to overcook them. Set aside to cool.
To make the pastry cream, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until the mixture turns a lemony yellow. Stir in the flour and the rum. In a heavy bottomed saucepan bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer. Slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking as you do. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens and returns to a simmer. Don’t walk way and do something else. You’ll be sorry. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool a little.
To assemble the tart, divide the dough into two portions. Roll out one portion to line the bottom and sides of the flan tin. Trim the edges. Fill with the cooled pastry cream, spread evenly and gently over the dough. Layer the pears over the pastry cream. Roll out the second portion of pastry and place over the pears, sealing the dough at the edges.
Brush the pastry top with a lightly whisked egg. Pull a fork across the top of the pastry to create a grid then place in the oven for 45 minutes.
Let the tart cool in the flan tin before removing it. Serve up generous slices with dollops of thick cream and imagine you and Paul sitting in a little Basque kitchen speaking French, him complimenting you on your wonderfully creative improvement to his recipe.