I recently joined the Saveur Cookbook club (as if I needed any extra motivation to buy more cookbooks). Each month, a new book is selected and people from all over the world share pictures, tips, and reviews as they cook and bake their way through the pages. I was excited that this month’s selection was Basque Country by Marti Buckley, a book from a region and cuisine that I am fascinated by, but I don’t think I would have sought out on my own.
Part history book, part cultural guide, and part culinary handbook, Basque Country goes so much deeper than just recipes. I learned about the different regions, languages, climate, and traditions before I even reached the “Soups” section and I know that I am going to be learning from and cooking through this book for much longer than the month.
If I could choose one word to describe the cuisine from the Basque region, it would be simple. I don’t mean simple as a synonym for “easy”, but as an approach to ingredients that allows them to speak for themselves. The people and culture of the Basque region find tremendous value in the foods that their land and seas produce and they don’t try to cover them up in long ingredient lists and fancy techniques. The cuisine feels mindful and unfussy and I love it.
Most of the people in the Saveur Cookbook Club chose to start with savory recipes, but being the pastry chef that I am, I flipped straight to the back of the book and began devouring the desserts section. I decided to begin here, with the La Vina Cheesecake. La Vina is a restaurant in San Sebastian that is known around the world for this cheesecake. Different than the traditional cheesecake (Marti Buckley refers to it as a cross between a “NY cheesecake and a flan”) this one has no graham cracker/cookie crust, it’s ultra creamy and the custard is wrapped gently by a dark caramelized exterior.
La Vina Cheesecake
From “Basque Country” by Marti Buckley
1 3/4 cups (350 g) sugar
2 1/4 lbs cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
5 eggs, at room temperature
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup (30 g) all purpose flour
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10-inch springform pan and line it with parchment paper. Make sure to fold the edges where the parchment begins to crease and trim it so that 2-3 inches are left hanging over the side. (This gives you that authentic, Basque-style look and means less work cutting parchment paper circles and strips.)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese for about 30 seconds to soften. Add sugar and then continue beating until smooth. *
Add the salt and continue to mix. With the mixer running, add eggs one at a time, making sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next one.
When all of the eggs are combined, stream in the cream. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift in flour. Fold in gently until no flour pockets remain.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 55-60 minutes, or until very browned and almost burned-looking on top. Start checking after 50 minutes and just keep an eye on it until its done. The center will still be jiggly, but it will set up as it cools.
Cool cheesecake to room temperature (though it is also delicious chilled overnight and served cold). Before serving, remove outer ring from springform pan and gently tug parchment away from the sides.
*Notes: When mixing anything (but especially cheesecake) it is imperative that you scrape your bowl often. Cream cheese tends to hang out at the bottom of the bowl and there is nothing worse than pouring your batter into a pan only to find large clumps of cream cheese stuck to the sides and bottom of your mixing bowl. I usually scrape at least once when mixing the cream cheese and sugar, before adding eggs, halfway through adding the ends, before adding the cream, and after adding the cream. Remember: scrape well, scrape often!