For my dining dollar, dessert really isn't as great a value as that foie gras add-on or an excellent cheese plate. Once I ordered the Basque cake at Gemma, though, I had to reconsider my no-dessert policy.
In France, gâteau Basque is a traditional dessert of the Basque region. This region borders Spain, and there is a significant amount of Spanish influence in French Basque cuisine. Usually, gâteau Basque is dense with rich layers of pastry cream, jam, or both baked right in to balance the natural dryness of the cake.
After one bite of pastry chef Stephanie Childress' riff on gâteau Basque, you'll understand why there's an actual museum in France dedicated to the cake. Unlike the traditionalists, though, Childress makes a much lighter version than the traditional cake, swapping out fresh blood oranges and grapefruit and a frozen citrus souffle for the traditional pastry cream and apples or Cassis jam.
Even though it is expertly plated, the Basque cake looks unassuming, and might seem a little plain compared to the more decadent desserts that dominate most restaurant menus. But the beauty of this dish is in its simplicity. It isn't too rich or too light, isn't fussy, and Childress' subtle flavor combinations will leave you completely satisfied, especially when enjoyed with a glass of dessert wine.
The Basque cake keeps in line with Gemma's light-but-satisfying tradition by being the right mix of sweet, acidic, and rich. Perfectly pared blood orange and grapefruit supremes were drizzled with a little sweet caramel to balance their bite, while flecks of citrus zest in the frozen souffle and the rich dark chocolate that lies underneath drove home the just-right flavor. This is the kind of dessert that you'll find yourself craving the next afternoon.
As it gets hotter in Dallas, light and refreshing dishes like the Basque cake will provide a welcome respite from the heat in Gemma's cool coastal setting. Served cold, the Basque cake is a beautiful and fresh way to send off the plate of seafood or homemade pasta that you just devoured, without having to loosen your belt to survive the car ride home.
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