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I’ve been getting lost a lot, recently. I blame it on our new borough. I’m still getting used to the place- living here can take some getting used to!
See, I thought I’d seen some strange goings-on when I lived in Manhattan- kamikaze bicycle delivery guys, for one, or our darling bedroom view of the Beth Israel Medical Center Morgue- but Queens is a whole ‘nother realm.
Down the street from our apartment is the Pollo Vivo, a chicken seller who specializes in halal chickens. Live halal chickens. You choose the squirmy, squawking bird you like best from a cage packed with other live, squirmy birds, and the Pollo Vivo guys kill it and pluck it right there for you in the shop. I haven’t yet mustered the chutzpah to go in, though I’m gathering the courage.
Then you have the Queens road system. Our apartment is two subway stops away from the Upper East Side- we’re closer here to the Empire State Building than we were in our old apartment in the East Village- but the roads in this borough are like some drunk person started to organize them before giving up halfway through.
Take our neighborhood of Long Island City. The streets are arranged mostly in a grid, much like Manhattan. Unlike Manhattan, they make no sense.
Say you’re walking down the street and pass 9th, 10th, and 11th Streets. Logically, the next street down is 12th Street, right?
Wrong! That would be too easy. The next street is 21st Street, which makes no freaking sense.
I spend a lot of time walking around in circles and staring at a tiny map on my phone. Hey, Queens! Get yourself together!
At least cooking makes sense to me, whether it’s my first time on a recipe or not; the same rules always apply. Butter and sugar cream together. Slow-cooked cherries coagulate from high amounts of pectin. And baking a cake at 350*F will yield a golden brown crust.
A traditional Gateau Basque is made with either pastry cream or a thick jam; I couldn’t choose and used both, and the end result was gorgeous. A sweetly dry tart, oozy and delicious on the inside, it was fabulous with a cup of coffee.
Maybe pack some of this cake with you the next time you try to find your way around Queens. You may be here a while.
Gateau Basque Recipe
for the cooked cherries
- 2 cups whole pitted cherries
- ½ cup tap water
- ? cup white sugar
for the cake dough
- 1 cups white flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 11 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- ¼ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 whole egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
for the pastry custard
- ¼ cup milk
- ? cup heavy cream
- 2 egg yolks
- ¼ cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
make the cherries:
- Combine all the ingredients over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to cook down until the cherry juice has thickened and coats the back of a spoon; about 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. (This can be made ahead of time; mixture will keep for up to one week if tightly covered and kept cold.)
make the cake dough:
- Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugar. Using a hand mixer set to medium, blend until smooth. Add the egg yolks and egg and blend well. Add the vanilla and blend.
- In three stages, add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as you go.Divide the dough in half- it will be crazy sticky- and press each half between two large sheets of parchment paper or cling film. Roll each dough half out into 8”-wide circles, then place the circles on a plate or baking sheet and freeze for 1 hour, or chill in the fridge for at least 3.
- While the dough is chilling, make the pastry custard. Combine the milk and heavy cream over medium heat. While this is heating, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch until pale yellow. Slowly pour the hot milk into this mixture, whisking constantly. Pour and scrape everything back into the saucepan and turn the heat to low. Continue whisking as it cooks and begins to thicken. If any lumps appear, whisk them away. When the custard is very thick and the consistency of jam, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the custard into a bowl and press a layer of cling film on top. Refrigerate for ½ an hour.
- Once the dough is chilled, preheat the oven to 350*F. Heavily grease an 8” springform pan and lock the sides into place. Lay one dough half on the bottom of the pan, pressing the dough against the sides of the pan in an even layer.
- Pour the custard onto the middle of the dough and spread out, using a spatula or a cake spreader. It will be cold, but will warm up as you spread. Once the pastry custard is in an even layer, add the cherries, spreading them as evenly as you can.
- Lay the second dough half on top and press the sides down. Use the pastry spreader to tuck the dough together but don’t stress too much about this; the dough will fuse while baking.
- If you’d like, draw a crosshatch on the top of the dough with a sharp knife or the tines of a fork. Brush the crust with egg white wash or water and bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and loosen the sides of the springform pan. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Cake is best if eaten the day it’s made. It will keep for about a day if tightly wrapped and chilled.
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