There was always one dessert at culinary school that would hit the table and be devoured in seconds. It was a Basque cake. And it is the perfect Christmas dessert.
For how unbelievably good this cake is, you’ll be surprised that it’s so simple. I think it’s something about the texture combined with the pure, sweet vanilla flavor that makes it irresistible. It’s a traditional dessert from France, originating from the Basque region, hence the name. There’s a layer of pastry cream snuggled right in between two layers of cake batter. And let me tell you this cake does not skimp on the sweetness. It starts with a pound of butter and a pound of sugar. Don’t let that scare you away, though. Once in awhile it’s wonderful to indulge on something truly special. Especially for the holidays, it is so worth it!
Since it is the holiday season, and Christmas is just a week away, I wanted to add something festive to this recipe. While the cake is baking, I simmer some cranberries on the stovetop with just a little bit of sugar. I don’t add too much because I want the cranberries to stay slightly tart so that the sweetness is not overpowering. I add some warmth with a cinnamon stick and some brightness with the juice and zest of an orange. After dusting the cake with a generous amount of powdered sugar, I plop a bright red spoonful of cranberry compote right on top.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 8 oz sugar, split
- 4 eggs
- 3 oz cornstarch
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 oz cold butter, cubed
- 1 lb soft butter
- 1 lb sugar
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 13 oz cake flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- pastry cream from above
- 1 lb fresh cranberries
- 5 oz sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- ½ cup orange juice
- ½ tsp orange zest
- water, if needed
- Combine the milk and 4 ounces of sugar in a small pot. Gently bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add the cornstarch and remaining 4 ounces of sugar, whisking until smooth. Once the milk comes to a simmer, temper the eggs by slowly pouring a third of the milk into the egg mixture. Whisk to incorporate. Pour the egg mixture back into the pot of milk. Over medium-high heat, continuously whisk the mixture vigorously until it thickens. Do not stop whisking or else it will clump. Once thick, turn off the heat and whisk in the vanilla and butter. Pour the pastry cream into a mixing bowl that’s been placed over another bowl of ice water. Let cool slightly. Refrigerate until completely cool, an hour or so.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease a 10-inch cake pan with butter and set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Blend in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Into a separate mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Work in batches to add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing slowly. Increase the speed to fully combine, scraping down the sides as you go.
- If you have pastry bags, fill one with the pastry cream and one with the cake batter, using a plain tip. Pipe half of the cake batter in a spiral pattern on the bottom of the pan. Use a spatula to spread evenly. Pipe a double layer around the edge of the pan so that the pastry cream does not hit the sides. Pipe the pastry cream inside the outer edge of cake batter until you fill the entire circle. Pipe the remaining cake in a spiral pattern over the top of the filling. Spread evenly. Bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing. Gently invert the cake onto a cutting board. Cool completely before slicing.
- While the cake bakes, combine the cranberries, sugar, cinnamon stick, orange juice, and orange zest in a saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat. When the cranberries begin to burst and dissolve, turn the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the mixture is thick and sweet, adding a little water if needed to help it along.
- Serve a slice of cake room temperature or chilled with a spoonful of cranberry compote on top.
- When mixing the ingredients for the basque cake, make sure to use a rubber spatula to constantly scrape down the bowl. This will help everything mix evenly and ensure that all of the ingredients end up in the batter.
- If you do not have any pastry bags, you can use a spatula to spread the mixtures into the pan. Just try to keep the layers as even as possible.