The last print piece I filed at Portland Monthly before The World Changed was one of my all-time favorites. During February, I had fallen vertiginously, like so many before me, down the black hole that is the Burnt Basque Cheesecake—the ugly-delicious viral sensation from Spain that snuck up and totally dunked on strawberry-crowned New York style. Mere words don't describe the crazy textural contrasts or pleasure-dome flavor, but in essence, this “cheesecake” is totally enveloped by a chewy, sunken, caramelized, homely as hell crust that forms, almost magically, inside a screaming hot oven. Hiding inside: silky, oozy cheesecake custard. Once you tasted it, there's no going back.
So I set out to find the best in Portland, inspired by the original in San Sebastian. One version just owned me: a beauty of a beast at Northeast's Bakeshop bakery, via James Beard cookbook author Kim Boyce. It was new, known mostly by word of mouth and available as a whole cake only, by advance order. I was ready to shout it from the rooftops. By the time our April issue dropped, Bakeshop had temporarily shuttered, and a piece called “Burnt Basque Cheesecake is Coming for Portland” looked like a relic of Pompeii.
After a three-month hiatus, Bakeshop is back, at least for pre-ordered weekend pickup. And now, Boyce's irresistible Burnt Basque Cheesecake is not only an option, it's a centerpiece of the shop, available on the reg, whole and by the slice.
Then again, many things about Bakeshop are different now. When she moved here in 2010, Boyce was known as an exacting pro and pioneering grain-centric pastry chef from Los Angeles. But Boyce concentrated mostly on creating a wholesale coffee-shop business in Portland. Now, the formula is flipping: instead of a wholesale bakery with a tiny retail shop on NE Sandy, Bakeshop aims to be bustling retail-foward shop with a small wholesale business. Ideas, experiments and discoveries are the focus, with help from a new mill for grinding fresh flours. “I've been testing pretzels, canelé, rye puff pastry, more beautiful fruit tarts,” says Boyce, “all these things I've wanted to make forever but couldn't fit into the production schedule.”
She calls her three months in quarantine a shocker and rollercoaster. But the time off also led her to some new conclusions. “I couldn't open my mind until I grieved the fact that Bakeshop was dead,” says Boyce. “What I worked all these years for no longer exists. The business I built would never be the same. I thought, Okay, be sad; go deep on that. Then figure out what you want to do. It was really liberating.”
For now, the reopening collection is small. A few house signatures remain—the vaunted almond croissants, the flaky, fruit-intensive hand pies. But a taste of what's to come is found in a new butter biscuit made with fresh ground kamut flour. “It tastes like sunshine and a Ritz cracker,” chirps Boyce. I also spotted some very darkly toasted mounds of coconut macaroons. Up next week: fresh cherry tarts sporting rye pastry dough. “I'm going back to the roots where I started,” says Boyce. “Back in the kitchen, having fun. This is Bakeshop 2.0”
It's just a beginning. During quarantine, Boyce joined the sourdough bread movement, which led her to a deep exploration of blogs and books. Around mid-July, Bakeshop plans to unveil a new bread line—challah, brioche, English muffins, and a sandwich loaf to start. And heads up: Boyce has also been busy perfecting bagels. A girl can hope.
Meanwhile, Boyce swears her Basque cheesecake is better than ever. After more rigorous testing, she's concluded: all recipes are basically the same; what matters is controlling the oven. The sweet spot, she says, is nailing three different textures—the dark-chewy exterior, the custard-meets-cheesecake interior, and the center, which oozes like a beautiful ripe Brie.
“We opened in June, ten years ago,” recalls Boyce. “It's so weird to be sitting here now, re-inspired, full of vigor and excitement. Wholesale business offered me a stable life. We all need that. But nothing is stable now. So I might as well turn everything on its head and start over.”
5351 NE Sandy Blvd.
Order online for weekend pickup at bakeshoppdx.com