For this very traditional cake, we are going to venture to the far south-west of France. This region is known as the Basque Country, and it sits deep in the Pyrenees mountains, right on the border of Spain. Food in this part of France uses many ingredients we think of as being typically Mediterranean, but because of the colder climate the cooking tends to be a lot richer and earthier.
This cake is a great example of those typical local characteristics, with a simple butter and almond custard sandwiched between a crumbly shortbread. It’s perfect for those long winter evenings, eaten plain or with a few preserved cherries, with a bowl of hot chocolate, sitting in front of the fireplace (or, in my case, a small radiant heater).
- Yield: 10 Servings
- 1 lb 14 oz (850 g) Pâte Sucrée
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- pinch of fine salt
- 17 fl oz (500 ml) full-cream milk
- 2 tablespoons rum
- 1¾ oz (50 g) maize cornflour (cornstarch)
- 3½ oz (100 g) almond meal
- 4¼ oz (120 g) caster (superfine) sugar
- 4 eggs
- 3½ oz (100 g) unsalted butter
- To make the almond custard, bring the milk and rum to the boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Put the cornflour, almond meal and sugar in a heatproof bowl and combine well. Add the eggs and, using a hand-held whisk, beat until well combined and creamy. Whisking continuously, gradually add half of the boiling milk to the flour and egg mixture and combine well, then transfer the mixture to the pan with the remaining milk. Whisk continuously over medium heat until the custard comes to the boil, then continue whisking for another 2 minutes. Transfer the custard to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and beat on low speed for 10 minutes, or until warm to the touch. Place the custard in a bowl, cover the surface with a piece of plastic wrap and set aside until cool to the touch.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Lightly grease an 18 cm (7 in) round, 5 cm (2 in) deep tart tin with a removable base.
- Divide the pastry in half. Roll out one portion on a lightly floured work surface until 3–4 mm (1/8 in) thick. Using the tart tin as a guide, cut out a circle of pastry about 5 cm (2 in) wider than the base of the tin. Line the base and side of the tin with the pastry. Pour the custard into the tart shell, filling it to the top. Make sure that the custard isn’t too hot or the pastry will melt. Conversely, if it is too cold, it will set and become difficult to spread.
- Roll out the second portion of pastry until 3–4 mm (1/8 in) thick, then cut out a circle of pastry about 1 cm (½ in) wider than the top of the tin. Roll the pastry around the rolling pin, then roll it over the top of the custard. Seal the lid to the base dough by running the rolling pin a few times over the top of the cake until the excess dough is cut off.
- To make an egg wash, combine the egg, egg yolk and salt in a small bowl, then set aside for 5 minutes. Brush the egg wash over the top of the cake. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden. It is crucial that this cake is baked at a low temperature to ensure that the pastry base is nicely cooked. If the cake becomes too brown before the recommended baking time, cover loosely with a piece of foil. Remove from the oven, set aside to cool, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before removing from the tin. Serve warm with a tablespoon of thick (double/heavy) cream or mascarpone, and with a small glass of Cognac in winter.