Traveling alone can be hit or miss in terms of the company you keep. (Read my rant on 22-year-old Australian backpackers here.) So I was pleasantly surprised when I came away from my trip to San Sebastian with some truly amazing new friends.
Halfway through my trip I decided to venture up to the French Basque country just across the border. After an unfortunate bus journey from Biarritz to Bayonne, where I had accidentally booked my hotel, I ventured down to Ascain where Susan Creamer, the COO of San Sebastian Food, invited me to a traditional Irish Sunday roast at her home.
It’s always a treat to get to step into someone’s home when traveling. And our 9 hour lunch under her fig tree was a particularly sweet taste of Susan’s world. We drank Rioja and Irish coffees and pisco sours and talked all about food and Basque living. Susan’s best advice: I should find a nice Basque boy and marry him immediately. Which made me think she was not only an Irish transplant in Spain, but also Jewish.
The whole cast of characters from San Sebastian Food joined us at the table, including the creative director, Aiala Hernando, who, in addition to her many apparent talents, has racked up a whopping 38K followers on instagram. I loved getting to know her and hearing about how she moved from the fashion world to food, where she’s worked as a stylist for big name publications like Conde Nast Traveler. Then I found out she was only 23, and felt all at once old and unaccomplished.
Luckily, I immediately hitched my wagon to her star and convinced Aiala to share her amazing taste and gorgeous imagery with you guys! We put our heads together to come up with this gluten-free cheesecake recipe using fresh figs, which should just be coming into their own in Susan’s backyard.
Though Aiala is now lactose intolerant, this cheesecake was the first thing she baked for her other half. She will never forget his face when he tried it, and keeps making it so she can see it again and again.
I’m so thrilled to share this cheesecake recipe and introduce you to such a bright young talent in the food world. Aiala is coming to New York in November and going to be teaching a few workshops on food styling. I’ll keep you posted on those, and we will no doubt have more delicious collaborations to share once I take her out in my town!
Gluten-Free Cheesecake with Fresh Figs and Honey
For the base:
- 6 ounces crushed gluten-free cookies (150 gr)
- 4 ounces mascarpone cheese (125 gr)
- 3 tablespoons butter (40 gr) melted
For the cake:
- 1 pound soft cream cheese (500 gr) at room temperature
- sugar (125 gr)
- 6 ounces cream (200 ml)
- 2 ounces mascarpone cheese (50 gr)
- 1 tablespoon of gelatin (4 sheets)
- 8 fresh figs halved
- ¼ cup organic honey
- In a medium mixing bowl combine the crushed cookies, mascarpone and butter. Mix them until a dough comes together. Press the cookie mixture into the bottom of 9-inch springform pan.
- In another mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, cream and mascarpone and gently stir together.
- In a small bowl cover the gelatin with just enough boiling water to cover. Add it to the cheese mixture.
- Pour the cheese mixture on top of the base through a strainer and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours.
- Arrange the raw figs on top and drizzle with the honey.
Aiala Hernando is a food stylist / photographer, culinary educator and consultant. She came to food via art and photography and several years working in the fashion world. After absorbing all these visual influences, her passion for fine dining and art have lead to a timeless, organic and colorful food style. She currently runs the creative direction of gastronomic tourism firm San Sebastián Food.