I went in search of a small cheesecake to serve for 2-6 people at home. I was intrigued with the burnt basque version that originated in Basque Country in Northern Spain. Chef Santiago Rivera needed to add a new dessert dish to his menu that was quick to make without compromising on flavour. It was created in 1990 in his restaurant La Viña in San Sebastian. Doing my research, I soon realised that I didn’t want to use a kilogram of cream cheese to learn. Cream cheese is exceptionally expensive. I had to find a way to scale the recipe to my small 15cm lose bottom baking pan.
Along the way I was also trying to find that perfect texture that most cheesecakes allude to, but elude entirely. Since 2020 I have been in search of the one cheesecake that came the closest to ✳︎my✳︎ expectations. It was from a legendary coffee shop that decided to close her doors after over 40 years of being in business. I was devastated to learn about their decision, as this was my go-to place to enjoy cheesecake when I felt I needed the comfort and joy. There is something very special about enjoying a homemade cake and even though this was from a coffee shop, I knew their story and it felt like family to me.
My memory triggered again on my recent trip to Spain. Brian and I were wondering around a market in Valencia and on a whim I bought a tarta queso at one of the stalls. As I handed over my euros, the man told me in his best English that it was an old family recipe. I wrapped it up and later that day when we returned to our apartment to enjoy an afternoon nap I remembered it. I was so mad with myself because I didn’t engage with the cheesecake man. I regretted not asking him more about it. We were so busy trying to cover as much new ground as possible that I never did get back to that stall. The tarta queso was absolutely heavenly and again I was reminded about my little coffee shop memory in East London.
On my return visit home I was all fired up to get cracking. I learnt there are only 5 ingredients in this recipe. Cream cheese, cream, sugar, eggs and flour. Last year I bought a book about scaling recipes so I thought I would use that knowledge along with all the other research that I pooled together. I tested various combinations and finally settled on the Philadelphia and créme fraïche version for my taste. I decided to leave out the flour because I read as the cheesecake doesn’t spend too long in the oven, the flour actually doesn’t have time to cook. I applied the principals of a baked custard to ensure it would set and it worked. I decided to add a dash of salt to balance the flavour and to reduce the sugar. I also remember a distinct vanilla flavour from my coffee shop memory.
I threw out my previous cheesecake methods and latched on to one I discovered from a food writer at the Los Angeles Times. Instead of using a stand mixer use a blender. I’ve got an old Kitchen Aid blender that I used for all of my testing. It’s a game changer!
Another win for speed and efficiency is no biscuit base to this cheesecake. It takes 5 minutes to make this burnt basque cheesecake and then you stand around waiting for the oven to heat up. The oven is set at a whopping 230ºC and this is where the magic happens.