easy basque cheesecake

While I do not think that the internet necessarily needs another recipe for burnt Basque cheesecake, it turns out I did. And since you’re stuck with me for as long as you’re here, pull up a chair, because we can’t get enough of this one.

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What is burnt basque cheesecake? Also called San Sebastian cheesecake, it’s been around since the late 80s when it was created by a cook named Santiago Rivera at his restaurant and pintxo bar, La Viña, in San Sebastián, Spain. There are a whole bunch of things that set it apart from American-style cheesecakes, the biggest is that there’s no graham crust. In an interview, Rivera explained that when you bite into it, the cookie “prevents the cream cheese part from dissolving” — he wanted it to be more like chocolate mousse “so the flavor goes straight from the fork to your palate to your brain, instantaneously.”

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Not only does the cheesecake have no crust, it’s often served closer to room temperature, so it tastes less dense. It’s slightly flan-like due to the addition of heavy cream. And it is baked at a higher temperature so it gets a scorched and caramelized top that contrasts gorgeously with the creamy interior. Oh and this is the most blessed thing — no water bath. Cracks? Sinking centers? Here the rusticity is intentional.

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So what did I need from basque cheesecake that wasn’t already out there?

  • First, I wanted less. Am I the only one who finds cheesecake to always be too much? A giant heavy round springform pan of 2 pounds of cream cheese, half a dozen eggs, an hour of baking time; it’s such a commitment. A loaf? Petite, easily sliced, a neat rectangle that fits easily in the bottom of a Sephora shopping bag, 45 minutes baking time.
  • Next, I wanted it quicker, a 5-minute batter, the kind I use for the cheesecake bars with all the berries. I don’t mean 5 minutes once the cream cheese is at room temperature, or 5 minutes once you’ve measured a bunch of things, I mean 5 minutes total. Once I realized a food processor or high-speed blender turns cold cream cheese into a batter in about 30 seconds, I haven’t brought cream cheese to room temperature since.
  • Finally, while most basque cheesecake recipes I’ve seen use some flour, I saw no reason this couldn’t be gluten-free and used cornstarch instead. Plus, cornstarch makes for the silkiest, most unforgettable texture.
  • Believe me, I was tempted to add a cherry syrup or sherry-infused whipped cream finish but we’ve found we like the cheesecake best adornment- and frippery-free, exactly like this. Which also means you’re going to make it twice as often. We can’t stop.

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    Easy Basque Cheesecake

    • 2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup (45 grams) cornstarch
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 pound cream cheese (2 8-ounce/227-gram packages) [see Note at end]
    • 3 large eggs
    • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract plus 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
    • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice
    • 1 cup (235 ml) heavy cream
    Heat oven to 425°F (218°C). Line a loaf pan (see Note at the end about size) with one big piece of parchment paper pressed into the corners and up the sides. I leave the excess paper extended up over the rim, which also helps protect you against overflow. Place loaf pan on a rimmed baking sheet, just in case there’s overflow (but I’ve never had any).

    In a food processor or high-speed blender: Blend the sugar, cornstarch, and salt into the empty workbowl to combine. (Make sure the lid is on or the cornstarch will escape in a cloud of dust.) Cut the cold cream cheese into large chunks and add to the sugar mixture and blend until completely combined and the cream cheese is soft, scraping down the bowl once or twice. Add eggs, one at a time, and blend to combine then scrape down the sides of the workbowl (yes, each time). With the third egg, add the vanilla and lemon juice too before blending and scraping down the sides one more time. Add the cream and blend to evenly combine.

    With a handmixer: Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add softened cream cheese and beat to combine, scraping down the bowl a few times as you do to make sure there’s no unmixed cream cheese. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine and scraping down the bowl between each. With the third egg, add the vanilla and lemon juice too before blending and scraping down the bowl one more time. Pour in the cream, beating on low speed until combined.

    All methods: Pour into prepared pan, making sure it all lands inside the parchment paper sling. Transfer to oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until puffed, deeply golden brown, and moderately jiggly when the pan is shimmied.

    Notes:

  • Cream cheese temperature: For the food processor option, the cream cheese can be cold from the fridge. For the handmixer, you’ll want the cream cheese at room temperature, softened.
  • Loaf pan size: Since, like my blueberry muffin loaf, pumpkin loaf, and others, this yields a very full loaf pan, here is my standard disclaimer about loaf pan size: Very key here is the size of your loaf pan because this will fill out every speck of it before it is done. Mine holds 6 liquid cups (or 1420 ml); it’s 8×4 inches on the bottom and 9×5 inches on the top. If yours is even slightly smaller or you’re nervous, go ahead and scoop out a little to make a muffin or two on the side. When making this for the first time, place a sheet pan underneath, just in case it spills over but I can promise you that in many tests, mine never has.
  • Baking temperature: I tested this many, many times at both 425°F and 450°F and even as of this publication moment, I’m torn on the “best” temperature. 450°F will bake in 40 minutes, tops, and has a more dramatically dark top. But, not everyone likes theirs that dark. 425°F can take up to 50 minutes and looks the way you see it here, deeply brown in areas but not throughout. Here’s the upshot: If yours doesn’t come out as dark as you’d like it, go for the higher temperature next time.
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