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Mar 22, 2011 10:37 AM

What type of cake is this?

A friend of mine let slip that he's never celebrated his birthday. Just not part of his culture. Ive decided that this year I'm making him a cake. The only problem is that i have no idea what kind of cake he is wanting. Pretty sure there is a language disconnect happening.

He told me he loves "g√Ęteau," but to me that just means "cake" in french (neither of us speak french) and isn't a special type of cake. I asked him to describe the cake he wants but that only confused me more. He said "vanilla, dense, not spongey." I'm at a total loss!

Any ideas as to what I should bake for him?

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  1. Check out Gateau Basquaise. Dense, vanilla-y, and delicious. Might be what you're after.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mamachef

      That's probably it. ;) Dodo me, I didn't see the "vanilla" part.

    2. This is a start, I think:
      You're sure to get more suggestions here!
      This one is from a French cooking blog, and it's easy to make.

      1 Reply
      1. re: blue room

        I made that, here's a pic. I wouldn't call it dense, though.

        1. It's not a pound cake. In French, that would be "quatre-Quarts."

          Gateau is the French word for cake, but in France, cakes are not much like the things we here in America think of as cakes. No layers. Generally one layer high, pretty much flourless, or maybe a teaspoon or two of the snowy stuff.

          French gateaux are softer, in general, from the recipes I've made. You might email Jacques Torres, who, I am sure, would send you a great recipe. Or, if you like, message me and I can send you one I learned when I was studying with Chef Pierre Franey.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ChefJune

            i've baked many french recipes for cakes, and while some do not, most contain flour. the difference is that most french do not do complicated baking at home. gateau de yogourt is an everyday sort of tea cake that even french children know how to make, and the flavors can be easiy varied with zest and flavored yogurts.

            fancy layer cakes and compex pastries are purchased in shops, not made at home.

            there are also plenty of recipes for olive oil cakes which produce a fairly dense texture, vs. a butter cake.

            check dorie greenspan or the chocolate and zucchini blog for ideas.

            if your friend isn't french, we may all be barking up the tree. what's his national origin? perhaps do a ittle digging for desserts/cakes of that cuisine.

            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Actually, the yogurt cake might be right up this guy's alley -- it is vanilla and dense and moist...and the fact that it's a dead cinch to make is even better.

              1. re: sunshine842

                This thread has given me a wealth of recipes to try! 'm think I might make the yogurt cake first. Not because it seems more like the cake he wants, but because I'm intrigued!

                I want to try *all* these recipes in the thread--can you tell I love
                to bake?

            2. re: ChefJune

              Lucky thing, you. I am sooooo jealous right now. : )

              1. re: ChefJune

                yes, but he's not French, so I think the only clues we have to go on are "vanilla, dense, not spongey"

              2. I bake the following "Brittany Butter Cake" for my fiance, who was born and raised in Paris all the time:

                Brittany Butter Gateau
                Ingredients: 6 egg yolks, beaten lightly
                2 Cups of all-purpose flour
                1 tablespoon milk--NOT skim--use whole or 2%
                1 cup of superfine sugar.
                1 cup unsalted butter--room temperature--cut into pcs.
                1/4 teaspoon salt.
                A couple of dashes of vanilla--but it is optional. I just love vanilla to death so I use it.

                Preheat your over to 350. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a springform pan. Line with parchment and butter the parchment.
                Mix one tablespoon of the lightly beaten yolks with the milk and set it aside.
                Sift the flour into a bowl and make a little well in the center. Add the egg yolks, sugar and butter and salt..and the vanilla if you choose to add the vanilla.
                Using your fingers, mix the ingredients until smooth and creamy.
                Gradually add a little flour at a time from the edge of the well and work it to form a slightly sticky dough. If you feel that using your fingers is disgusting, use a pastry cutter.
                Using your hands, pat the dough into the springform pan.
                After this is done, brush the egg/milk glaze and with a knife, score a lattice pattern into the top of the cake/gateau.
                Bake for 45 minutes to ah hour--you know your own oven best. Bake till firm to the touch and slightly golden brown--not too brown, just a nice golden color.

                This is dense but delicious. I've been making this for quite some time now and it makes for a happy dessert or snack. You may want to add some heated raspberries on the side.

                Hope this helps!

                12 Replies
                1. re: jarona

                  Mmmm...that sounds wonderful. And easy.

                  But let me ask, no baking powder?

                  1. re: Jay F

                    It *does* sound wonderful -- and if the vanilla is optional, it would be that much more pure butter flavor.

                    1. re: Jay F

                      baking powder is characteristic of american layer cakes, it was invented and introduced to our young baking culture in the 1850s. traditional european single layer cakes, like a true gateau, would not have baking powder as an ingredient and the recipe methods would originate earlier than 1850s, would get leavening and structure from egg, butter, and gluten, and would have the characteristics described to the op: "dense, not spongy."

                      1. re: soupkitten

                        I have an awful lot of French cake recipes that call for levure chimique - baking powder.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          right-- they would be more contemporary cakes, probably with layers, and not the most traditional types of french cakes. baking powder did not exist before 1850, but french baking certainly did exist before and after 1850, and recipes and methods would have originated in the pre-and-post baking powder eras. more simple, traditional french gateaux, as made in many homes, would not traditionally include baking powder.

                          american baking has historically relied heavily on baking powder, and many american cake recipes have become popular in europe, post ww2 and 1950s. they would include baking powder, which is certainly available to any french home baker. however many baked goods americans take for granted that require baking powder as an ingredient, such as american muffins and quickbreads, and baking powder biscuits, would be unfamiliar items to many folks in europe. again, i think if we go by the description given to the op of a simple flavored vanilla cake that is "dense and not spongy," several very traditional french gateaux come to mind. while i am sure any cake would be a hit with someone who's never been presented with a birthday cake, the op was in search of this fellow's favorite childhood type of cake.

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            but how many people *really* use cake recipes from pre-1850?

                            I appreciate what you're saying, but unless the OP and her friend are holding up REALLY well, it's much more likely that the cake in question is a "modern" recipe.

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              um, i'm not sure how much of this is arguing just for the sake of arguing. i wasn't for a moment suggesting that folks are literally carrying 160+ year old recipe books, scrying handwritten yellow page illuminated documents, or anything like that-- just that the cake was/sounds like a very traditional french cake.

                              regardless of when someone somewhere writes down or publishes a recipe for a baked good, the recipe and method predate that recipe. so just because i love the pie recipe in the latest martha stewart mag, copyright 2011, or whatever. . . pies have been around for longer than that recipe--a *lot* longer, and the basic recipe remains the same. new cakes, breads, confections, cooking recipes etc. are made with basic techniques and formulas which are much older.

                              do you have family members who make a cookie or cake, or another type of food, the method/recipe which was taught to them by a much older relative, such as a grandparent? is it possible that the grandparent in turn learned the recipe from their own parent or grandparent? this is what traditional cooking and baking are.

                              there are certainly types of home-baked goods in france that haven't changed much in centuries. the basic formulas are handed down thru generations, and average home cooks whip them up routinely from memory. a basic plain genoese is the basis for a huge variety of french cakes, and it has 4 ingredients, no baking powder. there are a number of traditional french, austrian, other european cakes that have been around for generations which do not rely on any baking powder, and these are more popular than ever, and not in any way obsolete. it is just weird to think that anyone would seek to invalidate foods which don't have a particular ingredient, or that have origins earlier than the 20th century-- this would get rid of a lot of great food (and leave us with a bunch of processed crap), after all! why is it impossible to believe that a simple vanilla cake served many years ago, to a child in another country, and presumably made, not by the other children-- but by a much older cook, perhaps from memory. . . would not be a traditional recipe taught to the cook years earlier by some french memere? i rather think that is a more likely scenario than that the cake somehow sprang directly from the pages of the latest haute cookbook, without anyone knowing how to make it in advance, or that it came from an epicurious recipe that the cook googled-- unless of course the op and her friend are REALLY young ;-P

                      2. re: Jay F

                        No baking powder. Good butter and no baking powder. It isn't needed:)

                        1. re: jarona

                          I can hardly wait to try this. I don't think I've ever made a cake without baking powder or egg whites.

                          1. re: Jay F

                            Please post on this if you do try it, Jay F.

                            1. re: blue room

                              Yeah..please post Jay F. I'm interested to see if you like it!