Baking the Bay Area’s Most Hyped Cheesecake

A DIY Basque cheesecake. (Nastia Voynovskaya)

San Francisco Chronicle food critic Soleil Ho isn’t one for hype. So when she tweeted the following, I needed to know more.

She was talking about the Basuku Cheesecake, a Japanese-inspired take on a Basque cheesecake that food industry consultant Charles Chen began baking as a quarantine hobby. Now, he sells them at Oakland’s Magnolia Mini Mart, KJ Orchards in the San Francisco Ferry Building and a couple of upscale restaurants. After reading Ho’s column, I, too, became obsessed with experiencing the soft, creamy goodness and burnt-caramel crust, and spent a week lurking Magnolia Mini Mart’s Instagram for signs of when the cheesecake would become available for preorder.

Apparently, so did everyone else with a Chronicle subscription and a sweet tooth. When preorders opened, the Basuku Cheesecake sold out in 30 seconds. And judging by the tweets, people were losing their minds.

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With ample time on my hands thanks to sheltering in place, I decided to scout out a Basque cheesecake recipe and settled on this one from Bon Appetit. For the record, I’ve baked under 10 times in my entire life, so I was a little bit intimidated. But my saving grace is that I’m really good at following instructions. And with about $12 in ingredients and 30 minutes of effort, I was able to create the much-coveted confection.

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To my surprise, cheesecakes are actually 99% cream cheese, reconfigured in the oven with the help of sugar, butter, vanilla extract, salt, a bit of flour and a few eggs. Most of the work was smoothing the cream cheese and these ingredients with a mixer, then pouring them into a springform pan lined with parchment paper, which gives the cheesecake its crinkled edges and rustic look. You don’t have to bake a crust for this because the sugar caramelizes and creates a dark brown shell over the top of the cake. Easy enough!

My boyfriend and I made this a Saturday morning project and watched eagerly as the cheesecake rose and browned in the oven. I went to the beach for the afternoon and returned to a cooled-down, ready-to-eat cheesecake. Upon first taste, I thought it was good but not life-changing. But the real payoff came the next day, after the cheesecake had a chance to congeal in the fridge. The Basque cheesecake is definitely best served as cold as possible, so that the molten center can acquire a custard-y texture that stands in contrast to the harder, burnt-sugar top and sides. So delicious.

My friend loved the Basque cheesecake so much that she staged a photoshoot. (Isabella Miller)

To avoid eating the whole thing, we invited my friend and sister for a socially distanced picnic with cheesecake and wine, and also delivered slices to another friend, neighbors and my mom. A surprising side effect of this project was seeing how a fairly simple (and sweet) deed made other people happy. My mom said she savored her slice over several days, not wanting it to end. And one of my friends, who puts in long hours at a job that doesn’t allow her to work from home, said she shed a tear upon tasting the cheesecake after a hard day.

I’m not sharing this feedback to brag. OK, maybe just a little. But in these depressing pandemic times, we need all the small pleasures we can get. So if that means spending a half-hour on a Saturday puttering around the kitchen to make something that brings smiles to people’s faces, I’ll happily do it.