I remember the first time I baked a cheesecake. I followed all the steps in Junior’s cookbook, but it still had crack after crack. It was such a disappointment. Over the next few years, I mastered cheesecake without any cracks and that has been my cheesecake highlight ever since – until the day I tried the Basque cheesecake recipe. I baked one after the other, and the result was all you could ever want: creaminess, contrast, balanced sweetness, and no fussiness.
As it turns out, Basque cheesecake was not a thing centuries ago. At a time when all the great foods originated many centuries in the past, the history of this is unforgivingly new. Invented by the owner of the restaurant La ViñaSantiago Rivera only 29 years ago with the arrival of Philadelphia cream cheese, it has become one of “the” cheesecakes to make.
It took several attempts and failures to get the perfect balance between a gooey and moist interior and the burnt exterior — every New York cheesecake master’s nightmare.
Today, the Basque Burnt cheesecake recipe is traveling the world (the owner has not kept the recipe a secret). Everyone makes and loves it, starting from your next-door neighbour to the world’s most celebrated chefs – Alinea (USA) to the cake shop Gaztain Tokyo to MoVidain Australia. With its simple ingredients and technique, it is one of the most forgiving and exceptional cakes to make.
770 g cream cheese
35 g farin sugar
165 g white sugar
6 middle size eggs
2 tbsp wheat flour
320 g whipping cream
½ vanilla pod seeds only
Place a rack in the middle of oven; preheat the oven 200°C. Layer the pan with 2 overlapping sheets of baking paper, making sure parchment comes 10 cm above the top of the pan on all sides. You will need to fold in a paper in some areas to fit in the pan; it’s ok. It makes the cake look more beautiful.
Beat the cream cheese, salt, vanilla and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-low speed (with the paddle attachment), scraping down sides of the bowl, until smooth and there are no lumps, and sugar has dissolved, about 3-4 minutes. Increase speed to medium, add the eggs one at a time, beating each egg until incorporated (not more) before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after beating in each egg.
Reduce mixer speed to medium-low, add the flour, mix in, and add the cream and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl (again) and continue to beat until batter is smooth and silky, about 10 - 20 seconds. Pour into the prepared pan, and bake until deeply golden brown on top and still very jiggly in the center, about 60–65 minutes. Take out and let it cool (it will fall while cooling) and unmold.
When ready to serve – preferably after 4-5 hours, carefully peel away the paper, slice into wedges, and serve at room temperature. If you leave it till the next day, then take it out of the fridge 4h before serving. It tastes much better when room temperature.
Many times when we eat dinner (and we do that together almost every evening), we talk about people and their food/eating habits. Actually no, we talk about their life habits and why (oh why?) so many people think food is the least important thing in their lives: why mothers don't pay attention to what their kids eat; why grownups say that they would like to change their eating habits, but don't; why we think that our meals have to be trendy, not real and honest; and why they compete about who has had a meal in Michelin restaurants, but when they return home, they eat crap.
I know it is easy for me to talk about this since I'm a food addict, and some people like to call me gourmand (I hate that word). I am an addict – yes, but only in that way that I do not put in my mouth every little thing that is put in front of me. No. Life is much harder for me – I only like to eat the things I value, something I consider good for my body and that brings joy + tastes great. That is the hardest combination of all, considering that most of the time, the food has to be made in 30 minutes during the week. But I do that, sometimes in 30 minutes, sometimes in 1h, depending on the way the day goes. But we always sit down at the end of the day to have a meal together, because that is the one time we are all there, at home, and interested in the things that have happened in each other’s lives.
So, every time I hear that someone goes to the gym at dinnertime and does not have family meal together, I get sad. Not because I judge them, but because I think about how much our society’s values have changed, and by that I mean, time spent together daily. Yes, I know that some may say that that is all bullshit (so sorry about this expression, but that's what people do say) – that eating is not the only way to spend time together, but you know what – I believe it is. It has always been – the best relationships have developed by sitting at the table and eating (eating chocolate coated strawberries and Champagne or a hearty soup), the deepest secrets have been told while eating, the best ideas have been born, and the loudest laughs have sparkled during dinnertime. And, most of the love has been declared at the table.
It is not my thing to judge anyone, and I do not, but it is my wish for you to think about that. About the reasons we do not cook daily, why we do not sit at the table together, why we are afraid to talk at the table, and why we do not care about each other. Yes, we are running around and have no time for everything nowadays, but at the same time, we know that we all decide to have or not have that time. I choose to have it, and I have always had it (even when I had babies at home, slept 4h a day, had my business, and worked 18 h a day), because that’s all that matters – good food and conversation: talking to each other while eating the food that has been prepared with love and care.
Recipe and pictures: Signe Meirane
Camera: Sony Alpha 7s