When I was living in Basque country, just outside San Sebastian, I became obsessed with several Spanish sweets. Torrija and Basque cheesecake, especially. There is a pintxos bar in the old town of San Sebastian called La Vina, where they specialise in one thing: tarta de queso, or cheesecake. This is literally the only thing I would go there to eat. They bake approximately ten to fourteen cheesecakes a day, all dark topped and paper ruffled, and they always sell out. This is my version. It works well with acidic fruits such as apricots and citrus. I’ve also made it with poached quince and topped with wild fennel seeds, which was a huge hit. You can either make one large cake or several small ones. If you are going for individual cakes, reduce the baking time to 15 minutes.
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
160 g (5 1/2 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg yolk
260 ml (9 fl oz) cream
10 g (1/4 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
very thinly sliced Meyer lemon, for garnish (optional)
2 Meyer lemons
60 g (2 oz) honey
1 tablespoon water
Heat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease and line a 25 cm (10 in) pan or cake tin with baking paper, making sure it extends right up the sides, or line individual small cake tins or pans instead.
To make the lemon purée, pierce the lemons all over with a skewer, then immerse in a small saucepan of water. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Discard the water and repeat this process two more times; by this stage, the lemons should be soft to the touch.
Drain and blend the lemons with the honey and water until smooth. Pass through a fine chinois (conical sieve/strainer) to get rid of any seed remnants.
In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment (or by hand if you feel up to it), beat the cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until smooth. Add the cream and mix thoroughly, but gently so as not to overwork or whip it. Sift the flour over the batter and fold through.
Smooth 100 g (31/2 oz) of purée over the base of the pan(s), covering it completely (store whatever’s left over in the fridge; it will keep for weeks). Pour in the batter, then put the cake in the oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until golden brown on top but still jiggly in the centre. Let cool at room temperature. Garnish with slices of lemon, if desired.
Recipe excerpted with permission from How Wild Things Are by Analiese Gregrory, published by Hardie Grant Books February 2021. Photos by Adam Gibson.
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