“It’s the Holy Grail of cheesecakes.”
That’s how King Arthur’s test kitchen manager, Charlotte, describes the Basque-Style Cheesecake (Tarta de Queso), a relatively recent addition to our recipe site. “It has an unheard-of texture and unique visual appeal that just drew me in immediately,” she says, describing how this recipe first piqued her interest over a year ago. “I just thought, ‘Oh man, we need this recipe on our website.’”
Actually getting a recipe published, however, proved challenging. Basque Cheesecake is a style developed by Santiago Rivera (chef and owner of La Viña in San Sebastian, Spain); it features a dark, blistered exterior that gives way to a meltingly smooth and creamy interior. Its simplicity is part of the recipe’s appeal: “With nothing else going on, it’s a pure, uninterrupted cheesecake flavor,” says Charlotte.
It’s also what makes it so hard to nail a perfect Basque-style cheesecake recipe. With just five ingredients, there are only a few levers to pull in the development process. Instead, everything relies on getting the recipe proportions and technique exactly right.
The long, winding journey to a perfect cheesecake
To achieve her ideal Basque-style cheesecake, Charlotte and the test kitchen team started by trying existing recipes from other bakers, then pulling elements from those that succeeded. For instance, the balance of ingredients in one recipe, the baking time in another, etc. “It came together very slowly,” recalls Charlotte, “because we were fiddling with one element at a time, and sometimes it took two or three tests to hone in on the right balance or desired outcome for a version.”
At one point, “we kept coming up with this greasy, watery exterior that left a pool of liquid at the bottom of the cake,” remembers Charlotte. The fix? Reducing the cream in the recipe by 1/4 cup (57g). “Which may not seem like a lot,” she explains, “especially when you consider how much batter there is, but it definitely made a difference.”
Eventually, the team finally nailed the right proportion of ingredients for a 10” cheesecake … only to decide that size was far too large for such a rich and decadent dessert. They scaled back the recipe to fit in a 9” pan, which led to a slew of new problems: With 7 eggs in the original version — an odd number to deal with — the math got tricky, and even more testing was required.
The keys to cheesecake success
Over the course of more than two dozen cheesecake tests (“We ate a lot of cheesecake,” says Charlotte), key elements of the recipe were refined. For one, the test kitchen figured out that any overhanging parchment paper from lining the pan needed to be folded down over the outside edge, so the cake would get a full blast of heat and achieve the desired darkness. Another important factor was figuring out the precise doneness of the cake to get just the right color on the top and the creamy, unctuous texture on the inside.
After baking this recipe countless times, Charlotte picked up on some keys to success. The first is to avoid beating too much air into the batter. A food processor is your best bet, but if you need to use a stand mixer, make sure to mix on low speed to avoid excess air. In addition, landing the baking time is crucial. Use a thermometer if you have one, and if not, pay close attention to the visual cues listed in the recipe: The cake should be deep-dark brown on top, with the edges just set and the center still quite jiggly.
The result will be a cheesecake that Charlotte says “has the texture of baked cream” and a rich, pure flavor. It will also be a showstopper with a little different vibe — not impressive for its over-the-top decorations or maxed out flavor combo, but its stunning simplicity. Bake this Basque-Style Cheesecake and see for yourself why it’s the Holy Grail.
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook.