For me, food and travel are hard to separate. Even when I come across food from someplace I’ve never been. So I was thrilled when I opened the LA Times yesterday and came across a Chef Dave Beran recipe for a “Burnt” Basque Cheesecake.
Burnt is in quotations because the char on top is from a hot, hot oven and it’s intentional. I’m always excited by the challenge of cooking with high heat. But cheesecake, really? I thought a low oven and a Bain Marie were the keys to success.
But this cheesecake is a Basque Cheesecake invented in San Sebastián, Spain. It’s becoming rather notorious on global tables here in Los Angeles. Naturally, I was intrigued because it’s impossible to talk about this city’s food without focusing on multiculturalism.
With more than 60 types of national cuisines available somewhere around town, Angelenos can feast on everything from Honduran cuisine to Venezuelan, Hungarian, Russian, and Burmese. We even have Thai and Indian food so regionally specific that for many immigrants it’s like they never left their parents’ kitchen.
Now I’m not Basque (and I’ve never even been there) but as soon as I saw this recipe I got out the bowls and I cranked up the oven. After all, this Burnt Basque Cheesecake only has five simple ingredients and one of them is the globally-ubiquitous Philadelphia brand cream cheese. According to Chef Beran, it must be Philadelphia; “other brands don’t work as well.”
The other trick to this recipe is the oven. It must be HOT. Make sure it’s fully heated and completely stable at 450 degrees Fahrenheit before the cake goes in. Don’t use a convection oven either. This is important because the key to success with the Burnt Basque Cheesecake is the texture. Caramelized and charred on the outside while barely cooked and smooth on the inside. So smooth that it would actually ooze across the plate if served at room temperature.
Which is exactly how it’s served in San Sebastián. But Chef Beran prefers to chill the cake overnight and cut it cold. He considers it “more deceiving and more surprising by giving it structure while keeping it oozy.” GREG