Gâteau Basque (from Ripailles by Stephane Reynaud, 2008)
The first, and last, time I made a cake was 22 years ago. It was a bog-standard Victoria sponge during my one and only year of home economics classes at school. My sponge came top of the class… after which it seemed we made nothing but chips (I started a flash fire) and jacket potatoes in a microwave (I exploded the microwave). So my sole potential talent was snuffed out before it had a chance to shine (or more likely explode in a fireball).
I found my way to the Gâteau Basque firstly because the recipe was short and I find that attractive in a dish, secondly because my French boyfriend has some Basque ancestry (and indeed I was treated at Christmas to a Basque song from his cousin’s young son, who lives in Biarritz), and thirdly because a simple cake hiding a thick coal crease of black cherry jam is too thoroughly wicked for me not to love.
I was nervous that I would discover that my potential talent was nothing but a fluke of beginner’s luck, and so it would now seem. The mixture was supposed to form into a “pliable dough” but, despite following the recipe, my mixture formed into a “soggy mess”. I added more flour, more baking powder to adjust, more flour, more baking powder to adjust, more flour, more baking powder to adjust… until I made it passed “soggy mess” to reach “wet cement mix”, at which point I lost my patience and poured half of it into the cake mould. A generous helping of black cherry preserve and the rest of the cement slopped on top, I couldn’t even be bothered to get my trowel out and plaster it to a nice finish.
Plonked in the oven, I got such a grump on, you’ve never seen a sulk like it from an adult. But what came out of the oven was a lot more promising. It wasn’t a pretty sight by any stretch of the imagination; an Elephant Man cake, jam bursting out at the sides like some kind of cake-based horror show, which collapsed in the middle when I sliced into it because it was ever so slightly undercooked at the centre. The boyfriend asked me last night, during the first episode of the series of Masterchef, why I’m not interested in applying. This is why. Being ridiculed by Gregg and John is why. NATIONAL HUMILIATION is why.
But on the inside, despite its looks, it was delicious. Springy sponge and oh oh oh, so much lovely black cherry jam. I will be trying to make it again in the future because, quite frankly, it is the cake of my dreams and I want to eat more of it. I’m not into your fancy icing, your red velvet or your chocolate ganache; give me deeply fruity, jammy sponges any day. I want to bake it again and again, trying different recipes until I perfect it, then make a giant swimming pool-sized one like Heston Blumenthal would, and dive in head first. If you’ve got to go, you might as well go drowning in jam and not in an exploding fireball of jacket potato.