It doesn't take much: the right review, then, as if by magic, a restaurant, bar or ingredient happens to find itself catapulted into the spotlight without even knowing how it arrived there. This is what happened, somehow, to the Basque cheesecake, that sort of cheesecake sui generis born in San Sebastian and now set to conquer America. To decree its rapid rise in popularity was a recent article in the New York Times, which included it among the food trends of the year defining it "the birthday cake par excellence of 2021," and indicating its flavour as "the taste of the year".
Burnt Basque Cheesecake: The History
But where does all this interest and overseas affection for the Basque cheesecake come from? It seems that 'love at first sight' happened about ten years ago, when some famous chefs 'discovered' the dessert in San Sebastian and started to replicate it in their kitchens.
But let's take another step back: where and when was the Basque cheesecake born? Tradition has it that La Viña, a traditional bar-restaurant in the old part of San Sebastián, served the Basque cheesecake for the first time some thirty years ago. At the time, probably no one would have bet on its future success: the cake, although delicious on the palate, has in fact the main characteristic of having a burnt and therefore blackened surface. Hence the name 'burnt' in English. So forget the American cheesecake cousin, whose external beauty happens to prevail over the actual balance of taste. The Basque cheesecake is and must be charred, with rough and irregular edges and a soft and melting heart. The secret is in fact all there, in that scorched surface that adds that unique and unmistakable aroma to its complexity, which recalls notes of salted caramel or browned butter.
Watch Tim Bereika at Kitchen & Craft re-create the traditional La Viña Basque cheesecake:
Let's now take a leap forward, to the 2000s, precisely to 2013 when chefs Grant Achatz, Mike Bagale and David Beran of Chicago's Alinea and Next restaurants flew to Spain in search of inspiration for their new menus. The definitive love at first sight for burnt Basque cheesecake took place at Mugaritz, where chef Andoni Luis Aduriz was careful not to give his recipe to colleagues from overseas but limited himself to providing them with some 'suggestions'.
This was enough to unleash the challenge of the definitive burned cheesecake among the three chefs, once they returned home. And consequently, more generally, the Basque cheesecake-mania that has gradually delineated throughout the United States and also in other parts of the world such as Turkey and Japan.
Today there are many pastry shops as well as high-level restaurants that offer their version of the burnt Basque cheesecake. A corner of San Sebastian which, starting almost as a bet, ended up touring the four corners of the planet and conquering the most diverse palates.
Basque Burnt Cheesecake: The Recipe
To prepare a traditional Basque Burnt Cheesecake you will need the following ingredients:
1 kg of cream cheese
400 g of sugar
1/2 l of cream
1 tablespoon of flour
How to Make Basque Burnt Cheesecake
1. First combine the eggs with fresh cheese, one at a time, mixing with an electric mixer. In a separate container, combine the flour with the sugar, then add them to the egg and cheese mixture, beating continuously with an electric mixer.
2. At this point grease a tin and line it with damp and crushed baking paper. Let the parchment paper should protrude from the pan by at least 5 fingers: this will make it easier to un-mould your cake once cooked.
3. Then pour the dough into the pan and bake at 220 degrees (static oven) for about 45 minutes. Don't be scared if the surface of your cake becomes very black during cooking: this is the extra touch that will make your cake an authentic burnt Basque cheesecake.
4. When you take the cake out of the oven, you will notice that it will have burnt edges while the inside will move like a pudding - that's just the right texture. In fact, you must let the cake cool for at least 2 hours at room temperature, then you can remove it from the pan with the help of excess parchment paper.
5. Once cooled, keep your burnt Basque cheesecake in the refrigerator, making sure to bring it back to room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.
From 28-30 October, join Fine Dining Lovers for a celebration of young culinary talent, when 12 global finalists will battle it out in Milan for the title of best young chef in the world - plus, join our first edition of Brain Food forum. See what's on.
Fine Dining Lovers teams up with the Culinary Institute of America, James Beard Foundation and Black Food Folks on the Better Business project to build stronger, more sustainable business practices for the industry.