On Yellow Cake Layers

Reader Rosemarie writes in with an interesting question:

Of all the cakes, including Sponge, Chiffon, Genoise… which type do you think is the CLOSEST in light consistency and texture to a boxed yellow cake mix for a layer cake? I tried a Sponge, which although spongy, the air holes are bigger and the crumb is more coarse. My jelly roll is most like it but I can tell that it wouldn’t have the strength to bear up under frosting and other layers. I think it has to have some fat content.


On Basque Cherries

Basque Country is known for many things, among them meat and fish, but also cherries. That makes sense in that it’s a mountainous region located right at the far-Western edge of where France and Spain meet, where the Pyrénée mountains hit the Bay of Biscay. Basque black cherries thrive all around the area in the cool high-altitude climate, however the most famous come from a town called ltxassou.


Um..excuse me…what exactly would a “good luck swastika” be?

I had a feeling somebody might bite on that little morsel of blogger bait. Reader Wendy, I made up that term, but it’s a fair paraphrasing of what the symbol meant prior to its adoption by the Nazis. The swastika is one of mankind’s oldest symbols. In fact it’s so old nobody really knows exactly what it means anymore. Swastikas have been used at one time or another just about everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, from Japan all the way around to the pre-Columbian Americas, where it was a sacred image among peoples as diverse as the Mississippeans, Navajo and the Kuna of Panama.


Gâteau Basque Recipe

I think for a gâteau Basque I want to go to a lady who really knows: Dorie Greenspan. This recipe is an American adaptation of a recipe she got in Basque Country (where she claims she ate gâteau Basque three meals a day). It appeared on the NPR site as an accompaniment to a radio feature she did in 2009.

10 ounces (2 cups) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
2 ounces (1/4 cup) light brown sugar
1.75 ounces (1/4 cup) sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
about1 cup black cherry preserves or pastry cream
1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water (for the glaze)


The Cross and the Swastika

Several folks weighing in so far telling me what they want to see as the filling in the gâteau Basque. As I mentioned below, classically they come in fruit versions (usually black cherry) and pastry cream versions. In Basque country they generally make one or the other. And while French pastry makers like Daniel Boulud no doubt make a great French gâteau Basque that combines both, the French aren’t Basque — just ask any Basque person, even and especially the French Basques.


Next Up: Gâteau Basque

This is a truly great — and mostly simple — preparation. If you’ve never tasted it before, you’re missing one of the world’s ultimate afternoon tea (or coffee) accompaniments. Gâteau Basque is really quite an unassuming little pastry. Classically it has but one filling: black cherry preserves or pastry cream. However I’ve seen versions with up […]


Making Pastéis de Nata

These things are really neat. They’re little, rich, aromatic and caramelly. As perfect an afternoon sweet as I’ve ever made. Not that I’d call these particular pastéis perfect. They’re a little too toasty. Yet they passed muster with a one of Mrs. Pastry’s Portuguese colleagues, who claimed they tasted just like home. She was probably being nice. Yet there’s no denying even these first-attempt pastéis had a certain…something. I’ll definitely be making them again. They’re one of the few pastries I’ve made that both my little girls loved.


The High Heat Myth: Busted

I think we can safely count the claim made by the proprietors of the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém bakery — that they bake pastéis de Belém at 750 degrees Fahrenheit — as a myth (of the intentionally created variety). Probably a diversionary tactic they use to discourage people from trying to make their pastéis at home.


Pastéis de Nata Recipe

This recipe has some unusual features: plenty of flour in the custard mix (presumably to inhibit curdling in the high heat) and a cooked syrup. I have yet to try it, so maybe hold off until I give it a go. Should be fun!

About 2 pounds puff pastry dough (home made is what makes this recipe)
2 cups whole milk
the peel from one lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 ounces (half cup minus 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon) flour
12 ounces (1 and 2/3 cups) sugar
2/3 cup water
7 egg yolks