What is Burnt Basque Cheesecake
Burnt cheesecake might sound more like a mistake than a crave-worthy treat, but names can be deceiving and this crustless cake is an effortless dessert that yields an improbably delicious cake. With a gorgeously “burnt” top and a rich custardy center, this cheesecake from the Basque region of Spain has become a favorite in our household.
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Why This Basque Cheesecake Recipe Works
- Mixing the batter in the blender is not only easy, it ensures there are no lumps. You can also do this by hand or using a stand mixer.
- Using very little flour ensures the cheesecake is dense, custardy, and satiny smooth.
- Lining the pan with parchment paper makes it easy to unmold this soft crustless cheesecake.
- Baking the Basque Cheesecake in a very high temperature oven will rapidly caramelize the top surface while leaving the center only partially cooked. This gives the center of the cake a silky-smooth flan-like texture with a top that tastes like creme brulee.
Although the name makes it sound like it has a long history, Basque Cheesecake was created in 1990 by chef Santiago Rivera of La Viña in San Sebastian, Spain. According to interviews, Rivera was looking to add a dessert menu to his Pintxos restaurant after taking it over from his parents and settled on a custardy cheesecake.
The original recipe from La Viña contains just 5 ingredients: Cream cheese, heavy cream, sugar, eggs, and flour. I personally like to add some vanilla bean paste to the batter, but you can leave it out if you want something closer to the original. I also add a pinch of salt, depending on the type of cream cheese I use.
It’s widely thought that Rivera uses Philadelphia, but in 1990, when this cake was created, it’s more likely that he was using a Spanish brand of cream cheese such as San Millan. I’ve never tasted San Millan, so I can’t say what the differences are in taste, but what I can say from comparing nutrition labels, is that San Millan has two and a half times the amount of salt as Philly, and it contains about 40% less fat.
All that being said, I’ve made this using Philadelphia as well as Kiri (French brand), they’re both delicious (though I think I prefer using Kiri). If you do go with Philadelphia, I recommend adding a pinch of salt.
The cream is added for 2 reasons. The first is that it’s a liquid which helps this turn into a batter you can pour. The second is that it adds fat, which makes the cheesecake more rich and creamy. “Heavy cream” is the designation in the US for cream that includes more than 36% butterfat. I personally used a cream that has 47% fat, which makes for a very rich custardy cake. If you want a lighter cake, you can use a lower butterfat cream. One thing to be careful of are creams that have thickeners like gums or gelatin. Although I haven’t tried it, I have received a few reports of this recipe not working out when prepared with such products.
All purpose flour has a higher gluten content than cake flour. Gluten is a protein that forms long chains when hydrated which is what gives bread and noodles their chewy texture. For cakes you don’t want them to get chewy, which is why cake flour is used. That being said, Basque Cheesecake uses a small enough amount of flour that the type you use probably won’t make that big of a difference.
By the subjective standards of cheesecake, Basque Cheesecake is burnt, but it is not cooked so long that the top turns to carbon. There are two non-enzymatic browning reactions happening here. The first is the caramelization of the sugar, which creates aromatic compounds such as Diacetyl and Maltol, which give the top the flavor of caramel. The second is Maillard browning, which is a reaction between the proteins in the cream cheese and sugars, which not only creates additional flavor compounds; it also creates the taste of umami. This is why the seemingly burnt layer on top tastes so good.
Every recipe seems to have their own way of combing the ingredients, but I’ve found that the easiest way is to throw all the ingredients into a blender and spin it. The only slight drawback of this technique is that it introduces air bubbles to the mixture, which is why I usually let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes before I pour it into the pan. You can also do this with a food processor, stand mixer with a paddle attachment, stick blender, or the old fashioned way with a whisk and a mixing bowl.
Time and temperature are the most important parts of this recipe, but unfortunately, the answer isn’t clear cut. The goal here is to get a burnt hue that’s just shy of carbon black before the center of the cake is fully set. This is what creates that magical contrast of the cake-like sides, caramelized top, and custardy center. If the temperature is too low, the cake fully cooks before the top takes on enough color, and if the temperature is too high, the top will turn to carbon before the center has a chance to thicken to the desired consistency.
In my convection oven, I bake it at 230 degrees C (about 450 F) for 22 minutes. Unless you’ve had yours recently calibrated, the thermostat on most ovens is off by a significant margin. Additionally, the airflow passing through the oven has an impact on how quickly the cake cooks. If you have a convection oven, you can use my temperature and timing as a starting point, but you may need to make some adjustments in subsequent batches, depending on how it turns out. If the cake is too firm in the center, turn up the heat and bake it for a shorter time. If the cake is too runny in the center, turn down the heat and bake it for a longer time.
If you don’t have a convection oven (i.e., there’s no fan moving the air around), I’d recommend going with the high-temperature something closer to 250 C (480 F).
The time for baking this burnt cheesecake is tied to your oven setup, so the goal should be to get a very dark brown top, that’s just shy of being carbon black on top. In my convection oven set to 230 C, this took 22 minutes, but the time will vary, depending on your setup. Read the section above for more details.
Yes! While it’s delicious served hot, if you’ve baked it for the right amount of time, the center will still be runny when warm, which means you’ll need to eat it straight out of the pan with a spoon. By covering and refrigerating the cake overnight, it gives the center a chance to firm up enough so that you can slice it.
I’m using a 6-inch x 2.5-inch cake pan with a removable bottom, but a similarly sized springform pan will work as well. There are a couple reasons for this. The first is that a small deeper pan makes it easier to burn the top without overcooking the center. The second reason is that for the size of parchment paper I have, anything wider would require two overlapping sheets of parchment paper, which would be prone to leaking.
The removable bottom is not necessary, but I find it makes it much easier to get the parchment paper molded to the shape of the pan because you can use the bottom to press the paper into the pan. Then, after you have the sides of the paper creased to fit the pan, you can put the bottom back onto the pan, and the paper should fit perfectly into the pan.
My pan holds a volume of about 70 cubic inches. If you use a pan that’s a larger diameter, it will hold more volume, so you will end up with a thiner cheesecake that cooks through faster. Since it’s still going to take the same amount of time to brown the top, you will need to increase the temperature of the oven to make it brown before the cheesecake gets overcooked. If you are using an 8-inch pan or larger, I recommend increasing the amount of ingredients, otherwise the cheesecake will be too thin. Here are some common pan sizes and their volumes, or you can use this calculator to figure out the volume of yours:
5″ x 2″ = 40 cubic inches
5″ x 3″ = 60 cubic inches
6″ x 2.5″ = 70 cubic inches (perfect for this recipe)
7″ x 3″ = 115 cubic inches
8″ x 3″ =150 cubic inches
9″ x 3″ = 190 cubic inches
You’ll need to adjust your parchment paper strategy for the shape of the pan you’re using, but as long as the volume of the pan is roughly 70 cubic inches, and you’re able to get a thickness of about 2-inches when you pour the batter in, it should work. That being said, I’ve never tested this with other pan-shapes, so you will likely need to do some testing with temperature and time to find the right combination for your setup.
The short answer is that this is what is supposed to happen and it means you did it right. When you bake a cake the oven heats up the water in the batter and it turns to steam. The steam creates pockets in the batter and as it goes from raw to cooked, the proteins solidify and form a web around the pockets of steam so that even after the cake has cooled, it is fluffy. Basque Burnt Cheesecake is deliberately undercooked in the center to give it its smooth creamy texture. Since the proteins have not set, as soon as the heat is gone, the steam escapes and the cake will sink in the center. The sides remain high because they’ve been fully cooked.
Cracking is caused by a difference in moisture between one part of the cake and the other. It is normal for burnt cheesecake to crack around the edges where the batter has formed a crust as it will be fully cooked, whereas the center is still undercooked. If your cheesecake cracked in the center, it means it was overcooked. In this case, you need to raise the temperature of your oven so that the top browns faster and bake it for less time (so the center stays more rare).
Easy Dessert Recipes
- 226 grams cream cheese (cold)
- 1 cup heavy cream (cold)
- 100 grams granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs (cold)
- 15 grams cake flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to the 450 degrees F* (230 C). See the section above in the headnotes about how long to bake it.
- Line a 6-inch cake pan with 2.5-inch sides with parchment paper. If the pan has a removable bottom, you can use the bottom to press the paper into the pan. Then you can use your hands to crease the sides to hold its shape. Once the paper is molded to the pan, you can remove the bottom and the paper and then reattach the bottom to the pan, placing the paper on top.
- Add all of the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. I usually let this mixture rest for about 20 minutes to give the air bubbles in the batter a chance to settle, but you can bake it right away if you’re in a rush.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and then drop the pan a few times onto a kitchen towel to coax any remaining bubbles out of the batter.
- Bake the cheesecake until the top is just shy of turning black. This takes 22 minutes in my oven. The cake should still be very jiggly in the center when you remove it from the oven.
- Let the burnt cheesecake cool on a cooling rack and then place it in a sealable bag and refrigerate overnight.
- To slice the Basque Cheesecake, prepare a long sharp knife along with a pot of boiling water. Clean and heat the knife with the hot water between each slice. This ensures you get nice clean slices.