Gateau Basque & the Art of War

Today, the Zen-man is going back to his roots. No.. I’m not talking about root canal or root vegetables but about my first introduction to cooking. Gateau Basque is one of the first thing i learned to make. It’s a relatively simple golden cake with a filling that manage to generate an extraordinary amount of comment and argument. All useless if you ask me because… my recipe is the best.

The Basque region is sandwiched between France and Spain. It is an interesting place known for its beauty, gastronomy and car bombings. I hail from the overdeveloped Atlantic coast, home to resorts, casinos and beautiful beaches and where you hardly ever hear about the separatist movement. The country side though, is home to a rare breed of human beings – the Basque people – quiet fighters dedicated to the independence of what they consider their country.

That’s exactly where my parents, eager to get rid of me, sent me to my first cooking school – i was barely 16. All things considered and in spite of the fact the school was in a town considered a separatists stronghold, i had a great time. What could be better than to be taught by teachers well versed in the Art of War? It’s unfortunate my favorite instructor got arrested midterm during class for hiding explosives in his home basement – he was quickly and quietly replaced and we never heard of him again.

I forgot the reason why we gave his successor the name ‘Sergeant Peppone’, all i remember is that he was very round and very insecure and would keep his recipes in a locked cabinet in the kitchen. My comrades and i were well aware he had the best recipe for Gateau Basque in the whole region for having tried it during a special event. We begged him for the recipe afterward but.. no. He wasn’t willing to share it with us and only gave us the school’s recipe. Pfff..

We didn’t like that, so we put our Art of War training into action and devised a three-steps strategy to extract the Gateau Basque recipe from him. The brats rebellion had started.

Part 1./ Distraction
On the chosen day, the first team was dispatched to create a distraction by asking Sergeant Peppone the keys to the pantry claiming someone had lost his watch in there.

Part 2./ Infiltration
The infiltration team met them there, removed the cabinet’s key from the ring and went back to the kitchen to discretly give the key to the extraction team.

Part 3./ Extraction
The distraction team then called the instructor to the pantry. When the path was cleared, the extraction team got the precious recipe from the cabinet, copied it and put it back in its place. The infiltration team then returned the key the same way.

It went without a hitch.All i can say is that the cooking school i later attended in Paris wasn’t that exciting in comparison.

After so many years i think it’s time for me to make peace with the kitchen Gods – that’s why i will share the precious recipe with you my friends. You lucky brats, you!

Gateau Basque
(note that i kept the recipe in grams for authenticity, online conversion tools can be easily found )
For the cake:
  • 250 grams Flour
  • 125 grams Sugar
  • 125 grams Butter
  • 25 grams Almond Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon Almond Extract
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Pack of Yeast
  • 1 Lemon Zest
  • 1/2 Orange Zest

For the pastry cream:

  • 1/2 liter Milk
  • 3 Egg Yolks
  • 100 grams Sugar
  • 50 grams Flour
  • 1 Vanilla Bean
  • 1 Tablespoon Rum (optional)

To make the pastry cream:

Scrap the vanilla bean and place in the milk. Bring to a boil. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale. Add the flour and whisk until incorporated. Slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture while whisking and place the mixture back on the fire. Cook until almost boiling. Add the rum if using. Remove from the heat and cool.

To make the dough:

In a mixer with the paddle attachment add flour, sugar, butter, yeast, almond flour and lemon and orange zest. Mix until the mixture looks like sand. Add the egg and the almond extract and mix until the dough comes together. Do not overmix. It should look like this.

The dough will be a bit sticky and should be pressed into the pan rather than rolled with a rolling pin. Use a 8 inches cake pan or three 3 inches individual pans.

Traditional Gateau Basque have a filling or either pastry cream or cherry preserve but never both at the same time. As you can see i break tradition by adding a few preserved cherries to the pastry cream. Why? Cuz it’s good duh!

Cover with a round of dough and press the edges to seal. Make a steam vent in the center and a criss-cross pattern. Brush with an egg yolk diluted in a tablespoon of water.
Bake for 30 minutes at 375’F or until golden brown. Let cool completely before eating. Enjoy.

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  • foodhuntress79

    Wow, what a great food + history you have!

    Sun Tzu should have mentioned that the art of war is also of “vital importance” to the kitchen 😉

  • Manggy

    Zenman, I’m always doubly excited when you make desserts. Thank you for this perfect recipe– I’ve not seen or heard of Gateau Basque before. Always, always in grams! It doesn’t make any more sense for me to do it any other way 😉 Also, yum! Cherries!

    I wonder if both your instructors are still alive…

  • Elle

    Zen, what a great story–I truly enjoyed reading that!

    The Gateau Basque looks incredible–and even more so because the dough is for the most part, pressed in the pan. Rolling out dough scares the you-know-what out of me, hehe. Silly, right? Too many ugly pies to count.

    Anyway, it looks fantastic and would be delicious with my morning coffee! Thanks for sharing!

  • Ann

    Love this story! I always equated food with love, rather than war, but all’s fair, as they say… :-)

    I can’t wait to try this recipe!

  • Ryan Placchetti

    I think I had a flashback while reading your post.

    Which reminds me, and I don’t know why, of a really lame joke I thought of the other day. I hadn’t really had a chance to tell anyone, so I gift it to your readers.

    Q)Why did the snowman put his head in the oven?

    A)The usual reasons.

    And for that I apologize. Word of warning, don’t tell this joke aloud… and if you do answer it yourself quickly and laugh riotously at your own punchline. That might make it funny enough for other people to laugh too.

    Glad to help.

  • Ben

    I have roots in the Basque region. The Beristains, my mom’s family, come from there. I want to visit someday and see all the separatist movement for myself. I may join! LOL

    All the trouble you went through to get this recipe was worth it, for us. Now we can just copy it and give you credit for your courageous deed.

  • Anali

    What a beautiful cake! And with a great background story – the intrigue and the excitement. What more could we ask for? : )

  • Function of Time

    Hold on….you are Basque!

    1. I love that this is by the weight. Soooo much easier and accurate when baking.

    2. I have to let it cool completely before I eat?!?! This will be difficult.

  • Lauren

    This is beautiful. I want to make this after I move in a couple of months, to a place with an oven that has a setting other than “broil”. (No matter what the temperature knob says.)

    I’ve added you to my blogroll – you make amazing food (put me to shame!) and I think you’re a very good writer.

  • Tartelette

    Your story was a great read! I love gateau basque, your recipe is along the same line as the one I make. I went backpacking in the region with a bunch of friends one summer and I had those at least 3 times a day!!
    Re-Michalak: comme toi, il est beau comme une voiture!

  • Kevin

    That Gateau Basque looks and sounds really good! I have never had Gateau Basque before but now it is on my to try list. Great way to get a recipe! :)

  • We Are Never Full

    Love this post, zenman! First, we’re obsessed w/ Spain, but really the Basque region is where I fell in love… and HARD. Where are you from exactly? We spent 3 weeks traveling the North of Spain and I’m curious (promise to not stalk your family).

    This recipe is to DIE for. I’m going to bookmark it for my husband b/c I know he’ll want to try making it. Thanks for the great post.

    Amy @

  • glamah16

    Oh how I wish for a taste of that cake. One day perhaps I can visit that region.

  • Mike of Mike’s Table

    That’s quite a story behind the dish, which I have to say, I’d never heard of and absolutely must have right now. It sounds really good and I’ll have to try it soon!

  • cakebrain

    I love that anecdote! All’s fair in love & war & recipe extraction!I’ve got to try your recipe. I don’t believe I’ve ever tried Gateau Basque. Your pics look enticing!

  • AzAzura

    I am still laughing while reading this witty,witty story of yours,I would love to have this gateau basque and will bake it real soon.Hope you are well xoxo

  • Diane

    Oh my, I can’t wait to try this one! *makes mental note to go buy the missing ingredients RIGHT AWAY* I’m so glad I found your site. I really enjoyed your tarte bordaloue, it is now in my favorites list!

  • Angélique

    Finally … the mystery of your history is unveiled a little. Cooking school in Basque country at age 16 … too cute.

  • b

    What an exciting experience in your life! Lucky brats, indeed. This is thevery recipe?! What makes amazing food even better is a history like this one! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • TavoLini

    fantastic story and a fantastic sounding recipe–I’m trying this on Saturday!

  • Cakespy

    I adore, adore, adore gateau basque. Sorry, I know it should have an accent but am not sure how to do that on my keyboard! I shall hoard this recipe like it’s the king’s ransom.

  • Zen Chef

    300 hungry people VS. a few chefs
    Sun Tzu would have been proud of us, right!? haha :-)

    Thanks Mark, I agree about the grams but home bakers in America aren’t familiar with it. I try to make it easy. :-)

    Elle, do try it! It’s not that complicated. Great for breakfast too! haha

    Hey ann! love, war, pig songs… everything goes on Zen’s blog! haha

    Ryan, i hire you as a lame joke writer for this blog! No there’s no pay. hehe

    Ben..don’t blow up my car now. NOOO!

    Anali, you could have asked for pictures of me naked, but you didn’t! haha. Lame joke #37 today. :-)

    Colleen, i’m not very Basque. I was born that’s all. My parent’s aren’t basque either.

    Thanks Lauren and welcome! I love ovens with only a ‘broil’ setting. haha

    Tartelette…attend..quelle marque de voiture? Pas une casserole non plus, hein? :-)

    Thanks Kevin. Glad you like it!

    Amy, i’m was born in Biarritz on the French side. The whole region is beautiful isn’t it? This recipe is the real deal. 😉

  • Zen Chef

    Glamah you should. Lots of fantastic foods down there.

    Mike, yup it’s a local specialty but really really good.

    Cakebrain. All is fair indeed! Thank you! :-)

    Azura. Try to serve it in your shop. I think it would be a big success. :-)

    Diane, i’m so glad you tried and liked the Tarte Bourdaloue! Thank you. Try this one now, it’s just as good if not..better! :-) wasn’t that pretty back then. haha. We were wild brats. 😉

    B, YES, this is the recipe. I should have posted a picture of my notebook with it. Now give me 500 Francs! haha

    Yay Tavolini! Let me know how it goes!

    Cakespy! That would qualify for a post on your blog i think! :-)

  • dp

    Thank you! You make this sound easy enough for a very (very!) basic baker like me.

    Funny story too.

  • Rasa Malaysia

    Your criss-cross looks so nice, did you cut it with a knife?

  • Emiline

    Well, look at that. That’s gorgeous.
    I envy your French training. You are truly the master of desserts!
    I wish I could have lived in France.

  • canarygirl

    Oh my Gawd. This looks absolutely amazing! You are from el Pais Basco?! I had no idea! And holy crap about your instructor being carted away for hiding explosives.

  • Kate / Kajal

    Those were the days right !…when everything was such a thrill. I can imagine the fun u guys must’ve had hatching that plan. Makes the Gateau Basque so much more special and amazing and above all worth it. That was a really nice experience to share. While reading ur post i actually kinda virtually lived that moment :)
    Now i have to try this, to see how good it is 😀

  • Catherine Wilkinson

    I am SO making this. I have my history of Basque violence…we had a whole bunch of them winter their sheep on our ranch when I was a little terror. Of course, all I did was torment them day and night and scatter their sheep. They were always threatening me with knives and Basque chatter.

    Barcelona is like my most favorite city in the world. Boy, did I get an education on politics when I spent an afternoon with a separatist taxi driver.

    I KNEW I loved you for some weird reason!

  • tigerfish

    Yes, I love pork and this video is a great dedication to pork. LOL!

    Love your story on Gateau Basque too. Thanks for sharing.

  • Psychgrad

    That is a great story! Nice to find your blog.

  • Jessica

    OMG, that looks so amazing! I want to make this so badly, but I’m too lazy to get almond flour. =(

  • Lulu

    I wish when my mom got sick of me she sent me off to cooking school in Basque country, that sounds much more fun than being sent off to chop wood!

  • Aran

    I just posted about Gateau Basque (I’m from Bilbao but living in the US) and someone directed me to your blog. What a surprise to see your version of it. Very nice! Where did you go to culinary school in the Basque Country? Are you Basque?

  • Jill

    Nice looking cake!

  • The Art Of War

    That made me hungry!

  • Rebecca

    i wanted to let you know I’ve been going to this recipe again and again whenever I need to bring something distinctive to a gathering. It has always been met with rave reviews. Bringing for a family Thanksgiving gathering this year. Can’t wait to hear the the accolades! I give you and your comrades (and your teacher) credit each time. Gotta love food with a story!

  • Pedro

    Hi great story , just one question when you write 1 pack of yeast , you mean yeast or baking powder? , i’m trying different recipes for the gateau and is the first one i see with yeast , and another thing the photos are missing

  • Pedro

    Ok, sorry i just found the new version and is with baking powder , thanks , great recipe, and i have tasted quite of them here in Donostia. 😉