Basque burnt cheesecake captivates Tampa Pie lovers

With a slide, key lime pie and chocolate lava cake, there’s a new treat in town.

Basque Burnt Cheesecake has been appearing on dessert menus on both sides of Tampa Bay in recent months.

It was first expected to be a nationwide hit a few years ago, but the candy has been dented by the pandemic. But local chefs, eager to reinvent their offerings after lockdowns and closures, are beginning to tweak their recipes and add the unusual cheesecake to their repertoire.

Originally developed in the Spanish Basque region of San Sebastian, cheesecake is unique in its composition and appearance. It is crustless and is cooked at high temperatures, which makes it ideal for a cooking-like surface and creamier inside than traditional cheesecakes.

Chuck Bundel was one of the first chefs to serve dessert at the Salvador Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg. Surrealist painter Salvador Dali was from Catalonia, Spain, and Pandel travels frequently to the country to study under celebrity chefs and try their techniques at his museum-themed Spanish restaurant, Cafe Gala.

“The caramel, the way it’s cooked, it almost gives you three distinct flavours,” Pandel said. “It has a caramelized surface, filled with cheese and a creamy texture.” Bring the cakes and let them sit overnight before serving. Even chefs in Spain use only Philadelphia brand cream cheese, he said.

Chefs from the Basque region usually serve cheesecake with a very fluffy and fluffy filling. But Bandel said many American diners might grumble about the texture of the cheesecake. His version is very popular among museum guests and visitors who can enter the museum only for dinner in the cafe. Serve the slices ($8 each) with strawberry cava rose sauce.

While Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant in Saint Petersburg closed last year pending a renovation of its new space, 22-year-old chef Horacio Salgado has used the time to develop more than a dozen new recipes for the menu. Among them: Basque cheesecake.

Basque Burnt Cheesecake, which originated in the Basque Country of Spain, is a trendy new dessert in the Tampa Bay area. [ Kathy Saunders ]

“He probably spent a month working on this,” Carlins, owner of Ceviche, told me of the chef. They sampled more than 25 copies to find the right consistency for the dessert: “We’ve eaten cheesecake forever,” Carlins said.

While the ingredients are simple, including eggs, sugar, cream cheese, and flour, cheesecake is “very difficult to make,” Salgado said. Its slices are similar in appearance and taste to the cheesecake at The Dalí. Serve Salgado ($9 a slice) with a simple dollop of whipped cream and raspberry as a garnish.

“We’ve tried it with many different toppings, but they just took off the flavor of the cheesecake,” said Carlins, who recently sampled the dessert at two Spanish-style restaurants in Washington, D.C. One was yellow and tasted like it had manchego or some kind of cheese on it, and the other was very thick and very dry.”

Since Ceviche reopened in July on Saint Petersburg Beach Road, Salgado has been baking 10 to 12 Basque cheesecakes per week. “It’s very popular and customers love it,” Carlins said.

Diners at Rocca in Tampa love the cheesecake so much that they pre-order it when they make reservations.

Chef Brice Bonsac, part-owner of the Italian restaurant, said he makes his own version of Basque cheesecake, adding a bit of mascarpone cheese. The menu simply describes it as “burnt cheesecake.” He added the dessert after the restaurant reopened in 2020 after a small kitchen fire, although he had been experimenting with recipes for a few years after seeing pictures of the cheesecake on social media.

“At the time we were looking forward to bringing some new juice back to Roca and revisiting some of the things we worked on before the fire,” he said. “I tried and missed some recipes and created my own blend,” he said. “Once I baked that, I knew we were going to do something.”

Basque Burnt Cheesecake is among the desserts served at Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum.
Basque Burnt Cheesecake is among the desserts served at Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum. [ Susan Taylor Martin ]

Bonsack describes his dessert as “a little crunchy and a little more charred,” with the inside like a brie. “Bake it in the oven in the early afternoon and then let it come to room temperature and don’t cut it until just before serving,” he said. He garnished them ($12 each) with drizzled strawberries and a garnish of shredded, sun-dried lime.

“It sells every night,” he said.

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