Well ok, there weren’t any actual flames but the figurative smack down of my spiritual arch enemy called “Making The Gâteau Basque” held its own excitement, with dramatic highs and lows that left me breathless. It was epic.
Gâteau Basque is a dessert from the Basque region of France that’s off the charts yummy and something my siblings and I have been addicted to since our introduction as young kids while visiting our French relatives. In fact we would stuff ourselves silly with GB, knowing that once back in the U.S. it might be years before tasting it again.
Making a Gateau Basque is insanely complicated, where one misstep ruins the whole thing, like say allowing the pastry cream to burn because a text ding distracted me for 3 seconds, or having the top crust collapse because my hand moved the wrong way while trying to “flip” it in to place. Combine this with my zero baking skills and a beach house style kitchen (i.e., no modern appliances but hey it’s got character!) and the recipe quickly morphs in to something decidedly un-cake like; tears, stress and exhaustion. I dutifully repeat this process every year and the end result is always the same; a delicious tasting cake but at the sacrifice of a peaceful and happy Christmas morning and it’s painful.
Well Gâteau Basque, this year was sure different, wasn’t it? I’ve finally figured things out and it’s over for you , finished, finito. I realized you’re one and only tactic comes straight from Sun Tzu’s, Art of War playbook. Your “subdue the enemy without fighting” strategy was masterful and I fell for it faster than a mob snitch hitting the bottom of the Hudson. The game however is now up!
I know you thought I was sunk when I ran out of milk, a rather key ingredient. Oh how I would have loved to have seen your shocked look when instead of curling in to a fetal position on the floor, I trudged off to the store in my pajamas to buy more, smiling like a lunatic and greeting people along the way.
I’ll admit, you almost had me when that cramp in my hand caused me to stop whisking the pastry cream while bringing it to a boil. You were hoping that slight burning smell would bring on my usual bout of panic and overreaction, where I’d toss out the entire thing and start over, defeated once again. What did you think then when I just kept going, whisking and singing away as I finished the sauce and didn’t care at all that it was a tad burnt and lumpier than normal?
I’m sure you weren’t worried because you still had your ace in the hole, your trump card that gets me every time; the laying of the dough that makes up the top part of the cake. I know you know how desperate I get just after rolling it out and wondering how in the hell am I going to flip that puppy over in one piece and lay it on top of the cream filled bottom crust so all the edges meet instead of collapsing in the center?
It’s at this point in the GB making process where my ability to speak coherently disappears and I revert to my native tongue of random cursing with plenty of !!! for emphasis. Coincidentally, it’s also at this point that everyone else exits the kitchen, leaving me completely alone to contemplate my record of ruin of years passed. Really it’s not that bad, probably 8 “wins” to 2 “losses” but even the successes left me spiritually and physically defeated. It’s very much a mind game that I always lose.
Not this time though as my attitude adjustment was holding steady and I was not about to start wallowing in despair and pity now. If that crust collapsed and turned my cake in to a mushy mess, well then it would be served with bowls and spoons and it would still be delicious. So with my confidence brimming and eyes wide open, I turned that dough upside down and plopped it in place. I’m happy to say my it did not fall apart and my cake, my lumpy and burnt on the edges masterpiece, came out just fine. Best damn one I’ve ever made actually.
I’m sorry Gâteau Basque but you are just a cake. A very good one I’ll admit but your perfection is not worth my happiness. I’ll continue this dance with you but will no longer care about the outcome. I now own you.
Until next year….