Every year there are a series of wine dinners at popular restaurants around Portland, Oregon, all in support of the Classic Wines Auction to support a series of children’s charities, raising over $50 million since its inception in 1982. While the pricey Gala draws the most money, the dinners leading up to the big night are considered a highlight for those who adore the wines of the Willamette Valley. And for me the greatest pleasure of them all was a Basque cheesecake, also known as burnt cheesecake.
A burnt cheesecake recipe that shines next to sparkling wine
This visit to Portland was the last trip I took before the nation went on lockdown and the dinner at Noble Rot Restaurant featuring the sparkling wines of the legendary Argyle Winery was so worth the fifteen hour Amtrak train ride from Sacramento…although it was a long ride leaving at midnight and arriving around 3 PM. The cost was reasonable (about $85) for a business class seat and the scenery absolutely stunning as the train made its way among the Cascade Mountains in the early morning.
Next time, I would splurge and reserve a sleeper, but I was on a bit of a budget and wanted to check out train travel as an alternative to plane and car rides. I liked it although your mind must be able to slow down and enjoy the pace. I wrote, I read, I gawked at the passing views, and waiting at the end of the journey was one of the most phenomenal wine dinners I have every experienced…and there have been hundreds.
Most exhilarating was the fact that this dinner was paired exclusively with sparkling wines–among the most romantic and potentially aphrodisiac wine styles of them all! And winemaker Nate Klostermann and the folks at Argyle did not skimp. We tried a full range of wines culminating in the 2008 Extended Tirage Brut ($80), which spent an additional 10 years aging on lees for a creaminess that matches its still bright acidity.
Noble Rot hit the food out of the park with inventive dishes like appetizers of mini-reuben sandwiches, a seafood dish Dungeness crab ravioli with Pioppini mushrooms, a Moroccan lamb dish and the finale of Basque burnt cheescake. And lucky for me–and all of us–they were willing to share this stunning dessert recipe.
A brief history of Basque cheesecake
Basque style cheesecake is a surprisingly simple dessert full of flavors and dimension primarily because it is intentionally burnt on top. (This is the reason that it is also called a burnt Basque cheesecake recipe.) The cake’s cracked and wrinkled appearance is also part of the appeal. Unlike a New York cheesecake, which is expected to have an ice rink-smooth top and a crust of even thickness, with this cheesecake, the imperfections are a part of the appeal.
This variation on cheesecake is a fairly new invention. According to The Little Epicurean, it was invented in San Sebastian, Spain in the 1990’s at a restaurant called La Vina. Although it started as a novelty, the La Vina Basque cheesecake quickly grew in popularity. It is a nearly foolproof dessert, which explains its appeal with both home cooks and restaurant chefs.
What makes Basque burnt cheesecake so different from NY style cheesecakes
Basque burnt cheesecake is similar to American cheesecake in its collection of filling ingredients. However, unlike the cheesecakes we know, it is a crustless cheesecake. No crumbling graham crackers for a press-in cookie crust with this style of cheesecake recipe. In addition, Basque burnt cheesecake is cooked fast in a hot oven, not slowly in a water bath as we’re used to. It’s this simple cooking trick that gives this Spanish cheesecake its signature, dark and caramelized, or “burnt,” top.
Why you must pair this burnt cheesecake with sparkling wine
For Noble Rot Chef Gregory Smith, it wasn’t necessarily the cake itself that caused such a memorable finale to the meal but the cheesecake wine pairing, which contrasted this creamy, faintly burnt, cheesy and caramelized cake with sparkling wine. Commented the chef, “For me this may have been the coolest pairing. The way the caramel notes of burnt sugar sparred with the bubbles was eyebrow raising.”
A dinner party dessert or one for date night
This easy burnt cheesecake recipe is one you can happily recreate to impress guests of a dinner party. (It’s great for the kind of people who appreciate a crustless cheesecake.) But why waste it on a handful of acquaintances when you can prepare this cake for an unforgettable rendezvous with your one and only?
Although this indulgent dessert isn’t exactly one you can call good for your health, (it should be noted, however that cheese is an aphrodisiac), it provides an experience that is undeniably sensual. And to pair this cheesecake with sparkling wine is to create the sort of eyebrow raising celebration for your taste buds that Chef Smith intended when he wrote this recipe.
A glass of bubbles, a burnt Basque cheesecake and the one you love. It’s really all you need!
Basque “Burnt” Cheesecake
- 1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter or as needed for greasing pan
- 3 - 8 oz packages of cream cheese softened
- 1 cup white sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 extra large eggs at room temperature
- 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
- Butter a 9-inch cake pan. Cut a sheet of parchment paper large enough to line the inside of the pan by a few extra inches. Butter the paper and press it into the pan, flattening any major creases. Trim away any excess paper from the sides until you have an inch or two of overhang.
- Combine cream cheese, sugar, salt, and flour in a bowl. Stir and smear together with a spatula until very smooth and creamy. Add vanilla extract and 1 egg; whisk to combine. Whisk in remaining eggs, one at a time. Pour in heavy cream and mix until smooth.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan. Tap the pan against the counter to burst any excess air bubbles.
- Bake in the preheated oven until puffed, very well browned, and nearly burned on the edges, 50 to 55 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) in the last 10 minutes.
- Let cheesecake cool to room temperature, at least 25 minutes. Lift out onto a plate and peel back parchment paper, using a knife or spatula if needed. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, 4 hours to overnight.
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