Nigella Lawson's Basque Burnt Cheesecake

Inspired by the iconic San Sebastian dessert, Nigella Lawson's creamy, tangy Basque Burnt Cheesecake, as featured on the BBC2 series Cook, Eat, Repeat, is served with a syrupy liquorice sauce.

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Introduction

I just can’t stop making this. A lover of all cheesecakes, in every one of their manifestations, I had – I must admit – neither eaten nor heard of this until a few years ago. It was created, in fact, about three decades ago, by Santiago Rivera of La Viña in San Sebastian, and has for a while been the most modish of desserts in restaurants, as far as I can see, around the world, introduced here by Tomos Parry of Brat in East London.

This is my version, and while I don’t have the wood-fired stove it was cooked in when I had my first taste of it, a hot oven at home creates it beautifully enough.

It is, I should say, very easy to make. There’s no crust, it’s just a wodge of tangy cheesecake that, although burnt on top, is only barely set in the middle. The hard thing is learning to take it out of the oven when it feels undercooked. At 45 minutes, in my oven at least, it is a disappointing pale gold; another 5 minutes, it appears suddenly, miraculously, burnished. But shake the tin and the centre of the cheesecake jiggles all over the place. It’s supposed to: despite your doubts and fears, take it out of the oven now; don’t give it a cautious further few minutes or it’ll set too firm and compact when it’s cold. I know you won’t believe me, and the first time you make it, you’ll overcook it. And I know that, because it’s exactly what I did.

And, unlike most cheesecakes, this doesn’t need to stand in the fridge overnight before you eat it. In fact, it very much mustn’t, although you can sit it in there briefly, no more than 30 minutes, before you eat it. We’re so used to eating cheesecake set and chilled over here that the texture of it at room temperature, or even slightly above, can seem strange at first. Naturally, you will have to keep any leftovers in the fridge, but for its grand unveiling, do try and preserve the tenderness of its texture. Half an hour in the fridge seems a respectful compromise, although in the cold of winter, even that won’t be necessary. So choose a day when you’re able to make it in the afternoon for the same day’s supper.

I always used to eat this plain, with a glass of excellent sherry or, when in season, a rhubarb compote (p.127 of Cook, Eat, Repeat), but I recently had the version from Sabor in London, where the sublime Basque chef Nieves Barragán Mohacho serves it with a savagely intense, darkly glinting liquorice sauce, and there’s no turning back. She very kindly told me how she made it. Quite rightly, Nieves uses Spanish liquorice pastillas, but it’s much easier to find the Italian hard pure liquorice pellets over here. The amounts in the recipe below may give you more sauce than you need for the cheesecake, given that there are strange people who recoil from liquorice, but it lasts well and is just as thrilling over the No-Churn Cheesecake Ice Cream (p.235 of Cook, Eat, Repeat). I also feel moved to make the pavlova base from the recipe on p.244, topping it with softly whipped cream, blackberries and a shiny black liquorice zigzag of sauce.

Gives 8-12 slices

Ingredients

For the cheesecake:
600g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
300ml sour cream, at room temperature
¼ tsp fine sea salt
25g cornflour
For the sauce:
15g hard pure liquorice pellets
90g caster sugar
300ml water
A pinch of fine sea salt (optional)
To serve:
blackberries or other berries of your choice

Essential kit

You will need: a 20cm springform tin

Instructions

1. Heat the oven to 200ºC/180ºC Fan. Get out a 20cm springform tin and a roll of baking parchment. Unfurl a long piece from the roll, and when it looks like you’ve got enough to line the tin with an overhang of 5–7cm, tear it off and press it into the tin, and down into the edges at the bottom. Now do the same again with a second piece, placing it perpendicular to the first so that the tin is entirely lined. Push this piece down, too, and don’t worry about any pleats, creases and wrinkles; this is The Look. Sit something heavy in the tin to keep the paper in place while you get on with the cheesecake mixture.

2. I use a freestanding mixer fitted with the flat paddle for this, but you could easily use a large mixing bowl, wooden spoon and elbow grease. First beat the cream cheese with the sugar until light and smooth; I beat for quite a long time, certainly not under 2 minutes, and it would be at least 5 minutes by hand. It is absolutely essential – and I’m sorry to repeat myself – that the cream cheese is at room temperature before you start.

3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, waiting for each one to be incorporated before adding the next, and when they’re all mixed in, you can – beating all the while – pour in the sour cream.

4. Once that is also incorporated, you can slow down the mixer a little (or risk getting cornflour all over yourself) and then beat in the salt, followed by the cornflour, one teaspoon at a time. Remove the bowl from the mixer, scrape down the sides with a silicon spatula, and give everything a good stir.

5. Pour into the lined tin (removing whatever’s been sitting in it, obviously), making sure no cheesecake mix is left in the bowl, and then rap the filled tin on the work surface about five times to get rid of any air bubbles.

6. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes, by which time the cheesecake will be a burnished bronze on top, even chestnut brown in places, and it’ll have risen, like a dense soufflé. It will, however, still be very jiggly. It’s meant to be. You’ll think it’s undercooked, but it will carry on cooking as it cools, and it should have a soft set, anyway.

7. Remove the tin to a wire rack and leave to cool. It will sink in the middle a little, but that too is part of its traditional appearance. I reckon it’s cool enough to eat after 3 hours, although you may need to leave it for a little longer. If you want to chill it in the fridge, do, but not for more than 30 minutes.

8. Make the liquorice sauce once the cheesecake is out of the oven. If you have a bullet blender, you can pulverise the liquorice pastilles first, but whether whole or powder, put in a small sauce-pan with the 300ml of water. Stir in the sugar, then put on a lowish flame until the liquorice has all but dissolved, stirring to give it a bit of a nudge every now and again to help it melt. Then turn up the heat and let bubble away until reduced to 150ml – turning the heat down a bit if it looks like it’s boiling over. In a 14cm diameter pan, I find this can take up to 20 minutes. Keep checking – you’ll need a small heatproof measuring jug by your side. Stir in a pinch of salt, if wished, and leave to cool, when it will have the texture of a syrup, which in effect, it is.

9. Before serving, unclip and lift the sides of the tin up and away, and then lift the cheesecake up with the edges of the parchment. Place this on a board, and peel the paper back, and take it like that, rustically beautiful, to the table, along with your blackberries and even blacker liquorice syrup. Just drizzle a little over the slices of cheesecake as you hand them out, allowing hardcore liquorice lovers to spoon more over as they eat.

Make Ahead: Prepare liquorice sauce up to 1 week ahead. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Allow sauce to come to room temperature before serving.

Store: Refrigerate cheesecake leftovers, covered, for up to 3 days. Refrigerate sauce leftovers, covered, for up to 3 months.

Freeze: Freeze cheesecake leftovers in airtight container for up to 1 month. Defrost overnight in fridge and eat within 24 hours. Sauce leftovers can be frozen in airtight container for up to 6 months. Defrost overnight in fridge.

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