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Burnt Basque cheesecake

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

"With a caramelized top that borders on burnt and a jiggly custardy center, Basque Cheesecake is a mind-blowingly delicious combination of textures and tastes that comes together from a handful of ingredients with almost no effort." No Recipes

Apparently Burnt Basque cheesecake is a cult dish that has its own Instagram tag. And just to demonstrate how cult it is, it's the Japanese who really seem to love it. There even seems to be a Japanese version. What is really interesting to me about the cult thing is that The Basque Book - a somewhat cultish book in itself - has no recipe. I wonder why.

I'm writing about it because it was the second How To thing in the Coles Magazine, and I had also noticed that it had a few other cheesecakes in this edition, so I was going to just write about cheesecakes in general, but I rapidly saw that this was far too big a subject. I'll just point you to the two non Basque variety cheesecakes the magazine featured - and they both look so yummy - Macarpone chocolate tart with roasted grapes, (possibly not quite a cheesecake) and Pumpkin pie cheesecake with figs and salted caramel:

But back to the Burnt Basque cheesecake. Yes burnt and some of the versions I came across were certainly very burnt looking. The ones at left are the originals and they don't actually look that burnt - on the top anyway. There seems to be no doubt at all with this origin story. The cake is the invention of chef Santiago Rivera who has a restaurant/tapas bar called La Viña in San Sebastian. He invented it in 1990 and nowadays people make pilgrimages there - well pre COVID anyway - to eat them. Indeed Matt Preston recommends that you have your dessert of this cake first, or there won't be any left.

Apparently Santiago Rivera has been very generous with the recipe and virtually all of the recipes you will find on the net are based on his. So what's so special and different about it?

Well the first thing is that there is no crust - no crushed biscuits mixed with melted butter. You just line your tin with baking paper and fill it with the batter, which is just mixed together - you can even do it by hand. The ingredients are also simple - cream cheese, sugar, eggs, cream and a little flour. Then you cook it on a high heat which is very different from your normal cheesecake. People seem to disagree about how long to cook it for - it ranged from 30 minutes to an hour. Nigella Lawson has these words of wisdom about this:

"The hard thing is learning to take it out of the oven when it feels undercooked. At 45 minutes, in my oven at least, it is a disappointing pale gold; another 5 minutes, it appears suddenly, miraculously, burnished. But shake the tin and the centre of the cheesecake jiggles all over the place. It's supposed to: despite your doubts and fears, take it out of the oven now; don't give it a cautious further few minutes or it'll set too firm and compact when it's cold. I know you won't believe me, and the first time you make it, you'll overcook it. And I know that, because it's exactly what I did."

Now her version is served with a liquorice sauce which she swears by and which she got from another Basque cook - Nieves Barragán Mohacho, and some berries. But the liquorice sauce is not a common addition.

She also tells you should not really keep it in the fridge - well not until you have first eaten it anyway. Just 30 minutes chilling will do.

So what is it supposed to look and taste like?

"cut through the scorched, blackened top layer to reveal a gooey centre of cream cheese, sugar, eggs and cream that oozes out like slow-moving molten lava. And you can forget about the crumbly crust that’s emblematic of a good cheesecake – the required inferno-level oven temperature (around 200˚C) provides an even, gorgeously dark toast around the whole cake, but would likely incinerate anything resembling a biscuit base." Lucy Rennick - SBS

And most of the pictures I saw seemed to have a sunken middle, so don't distress yourself over that. I have to say that it sounds super simple - it can even be summed up in a Len Deighton comic strip - predecessor to the YouTube video - and there are plenty of them too:

Virtually everyone said it is simple, so simple you could get your kids to make it, but then I saw this:

“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to make." Dave Beran

Dave Beran is apparently a chef, so I was a bit taken aback by this. But he went on to sort of agree with Nigella, saying that

“There are so many variables: the temperature of the ingredients, the way you mix them, the bake times and rest times.”

He takes you through the process in the New York Times. He claims it's fail-safe I think, but then they all do don't they? I think it's probably worth a go though.

As for variations - there were not many. Coles had a couple of offerings: Chocolate Basque cheesecake with roasted strawberries, and Lemon curd Basque cheesecake, which includes a recipe for the lemon curd.

I thought The Guardian crew might have something. You would have thought that Yotam Ottolenghi would have gone for this wouldn't you, but the Middle-Eastern touch was found in Australia's own Courtney Roulston on her website Farm to Fork with a Tahini burnt Basque cheesecake. There are a few other things in this one too besides the tahini.

I thought I would close with that Instagram tag - but I found there are actually several different Instagram tags. This one has some classy looking versions though. Movida has the recipe and makes it from time to time, although they also use it in an ice cream version.

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