How To Make Basque Cheesecake

published Mar 11, 2021
How to Make a "Burnt" Basque Cheesecake

Basque cheesecake boasts a deep golden hue and caramelized flavor, and is really quite easy to make. Here's our step-by-step guide.

Serves8 to 10

Prep1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook1 hour

Jump to Recipe
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someone is pulling a slice of cheesecake from the whole cake on parchment paper
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My first bite of Basque cheesecake was a revelation. I’ve never been a fan of super-rich New York-style cheesecake, so it was as if Basque cheesecake — which is decidedly less sweet and really lets the flavor of the cheese shine — was made for me. I was initially drawn in by its dark, almost-burnt appearance, but it was the caramelized flavor and impossibly smooth texture that had me begging the chef for his recipe.

As it turns out, not only is Basque cheesecake (or burnt Basque cheesecake) incredibly delicious, but it’s also simple to make at home. Here’s everything you need to know about this stunning Spanish sweet.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

What’s the History of Basque Cheesecake?

When I moved to Boise, Idaho, three years ago, I was excited to learn that the city has the largest concentration of Basque residents in the United States. Reportedly, many Basque families moved from the region in northern Spain to Idaho in the 1800s to mine silver or work as sheepherders. Today, Boise has a rich Basque culture and an entire Basque block filled with restaurants, a market, and a cultural museum. This is where I had my first Basque cheesecake.

As I learned from talking with local Basque chef Asier Garcia, chef-owner of Leku Ona, Basque cheesecake is a relatively new concept. “Burnt cheesecake isn’t something our grandmothers made for us,” he said. “It came out of a restaurant called La Viña in San Sebastian in the 1990s, with almost every chef, home baker, and magazine riffing on the recipe created by chef Santiago Rivera.” The story goes that Rivera had taken over the family restaurant and set out to add a simple dessert to the menu. Working within the constraints of a savory kitchen, like a hot oven that contributed the cheesecake’s dark color, this riff on classic cheesecake was born.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

What Does Basque Cheesecake Taste Like?

Basque cheesecake bakes at a higher temperature than traditional cheesecake (400°F versus 350°F), giving it its deep golden hue and caramelized flavor. The burnt moniker comes only from the appearance — Basque cheesecake tastes rich and caramelly.

The other thing you’ll notice is that Basque cheesecake doesn’t have a crust. The airy batter and high heat cause the cheesecake to rise and fall in the oven a bit like a soufflé, which gives the dessert a crust-like exterior and ultra-creamy interior. Depending on the bake time, the center can range from runny (think: Camembert cheese) to fudge-like. A small amount of flour in the batter (just 1/4 cup for nearly three pounds of dairy) helps set the cheesecake and makes it sturdy enough to slice.

Basque cheesecake is also less sweet than most cheesecakes, which really lets the cheese flavor shine. “In Spain, Philadelphia cream cheese wasn’t widely available, so the original Basque cheesecakes were made without salt, because the Spanish cream cheese was already seasoned,” Garcia told me with a bit of a laugh.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Do I Need a Special Pan for Basque Cheesecake?

Basque cheesecakes are most often baked in springform pans, but unlike New York-style cheesecakes, you don’t need a water bath. Because of this, you can use a cake pan instead. Just be sure to use one that’s at least 3 inches deep because the cheesecake will rise (and fall) quite a bit as it bakes.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

3 Tips for the Best Basque Cheesecake

Rivera’s recipe is widely available in books and online — Taste called it “a special recipe but not a secret one.” Having cooked through a handful of adaptations, I’ve found a few tips for Basque cheesecake perfection.

  1. Bring the cream cheese to room temperature. Cubing the cream cheese and letting it sit at room temperature for at least an hour will make mixing the batter much easier and ensure a creamy cheesecake.
  2. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Adding the eggs one at a time and making sure each one is fully incorporated before adding the next brings a lot of air to the batter, which is what helps create that soufflé-like texture.
  3. Pull the cheesecake from the oven when it’s jiggly. For a smooth, creamy interior, you don’t want to overbake the cheesecake. Pull it out when it’s deeply browned on top but still jiggles when you tap on the pan. Some carryover cooking after the cheesecake is out of the oven will help it set.

How to Serve Basque Cheesecake

You can serve the cheesecake slightly warm or at room temperature. You can also refrigerate the dessert overnight, but just be sure to bring it back to room temperature before serving — you want it to be soft and creamy. Basque cheesecake isn’t served with any toppings or sauce, but it’s great with a small glass of sherry, which is a traditional drink pairing in Spain’s Basque region — as well as in Boise’s Basque block.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
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Here's how to make a Basque cheesecake.

How to Make a "Burnt" Basque Cheesecake

Basque cheesecake boasts a deep golden hue and caramelized flavor, and is really quite easy to make. Here's our step-by-step guide.

Prep time 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds

    full-fat cream cheese

  • Cooking spray

  • 1 3/4 cups

    granulated sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 5

    large eggs

  • 2 cups

    heavy cream

  • 1/4 cup

    all-purpose flour

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Tongs

  • Fine-mesh strainer

  • 9-inch springform pan, or 9-inch (3-inch high) round cake pan

  • Parchment paper

  • Large spatula

Instructions

  1. Bring the cream cheese to room temperature. Cut 2 pounds cream cheese into large cubes. Place in a large bowl if using an electric hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer and let sit at room temperature at least 1 hour.

  2. Heat the oven and prepare the pan. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Coat a 9-inch springform pan or 9-inch (3-inch high) round cake pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with 2 overlapping sheets of parchment paper, and don’t worry if there are some wrinkles and creases in the paper.

  3. Beat the cream cheese and sugar together. Add 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar to the cream cheese and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher and beat to combine.

  4. Beat in the eggs and cream. With the mixer on low speed, beat in 5 large eggs one at a time, mixing until each one is incorporated before adding the next. Slowly pour in 2 cups heavy cream and mix until smooth.

  5. Sift in the flour and gently fold it in. Use a fine-mesh strainer to sift 1/4 cup all-purpose flour onto the batter. Fold it in with a large spatula.

  6. Bake the cheesecake for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until browned and almost burned-looking on top, with a jiggly center, 50 minutes to 1 hour. The cake will puff, crack, and fall as it bakes.

  7. Cool the cheesecake for 1 hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour.

  8. Serve the cheesecake at room temperature. To serve, remove the cake from the pan, or remove the outer ring of the springform pan. Peel away the parchment paper and slice the cheesecake.

Recipe Notes

Adapted from chef Santiago Rivera's recipe.