As far as desserts are concerned, 2019 is just about the year of the Basque burnt cheesecake. It is by no means new. La Viña in San Sebastián, Spain first introduced it nearly three decades ago, and chefs have been fascinated ever since (tastecooking.com, which posted the original recipe ours is based on, has an excellent read on that). KL was actually several years ahead of Singapore in embracing the burnt cheesecake, but it was really 2019 that the burnt cheesecake hit peak mainstream consciousness globally.
Caramelised to an extreme with a creamy, almost molten core of tangy-sweetness, the burnt cheesecake is the very pinnacle of ugly deliciousness. What’s most surprising is how ridiculously simple the recipe is – no water baths, no special equipment, no molecular gastronomy techniques. We’re all about easy recipes that work, so this is right up our alley. And since the bare-bone, rustic look is the very premise, there’s zero pressure to fiddle with decorating it.
Possibly The Most Idiot-proof Cheesecake Recipe Around
Without having tried the original Basque burnt cheesecake by La Viña, I can make no claims about the authenticity of this recipe. Plus, I’ve taken a cue from Olivia Restaurant (theirs is tart-based) and thrown some blue cheese into the fray to give the burnt cheesecake an edge of funky complexity.
This burnt cheesecake recipe is by no means perfectly consistent, but it is very straightforward, very forgiving. It’s near impossible to screw up – and I say that as someone who finds baking nerve-wrecking. Generally, baking is an exact science. There’s very little margin of error and if something doesn’t turn out right, usually, you can’t fix it. I’ve baked this burnt cheesecake dozens of times and I’ve never had a disappointing bake. The flavour and texture might differ a teeny bit each round, but it’s almost never (more on that later) not amazing.
The high heat is what gives the cheesecake that caramel-like depth, so don’t be intimidated by the 240 ° C temperature. But to me, the molten centre is more important than achieving a fully burnt look. Sometimes I’ll halt baking even at a medium brown – it’s all about personal preferences.
You can skip the blue cheese completely if you’d like; that was the first version I tried and it was also amazing! But really, that 1.5tbsp-ish of blue cheese was mild enough not to offend my blue cheese-shunning friends, so I would highly recommend giving the blue cheese option that one chance!
I’ve adapted this recipe from the original shared by tastecooking.com. You might notice that the original version has very simplified instructions, i.e. mix everything at once in a stand mixer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t too realistic for us. We found that it’s really necessary to work the cream cheese first; otherwise, you’ll get a lot of lumps in the cake batter. Also, if the batter is not thoroughly mixed, there’s a higher likelihood of salt bombs (#truestory) in the cake.
The original recipe called for 500°F which is 260°C. My oven maxes out at 240°C but using the convection setting (i.e. top-and-bottom heat with the fan on) seemed to have circumvented that issue nicely. If you’re baking at 260°C, you might want to shorten bake-time and start checking the cake from the 16min mark.
The only thing you have to note is this: Don’t stinge on the ingredients. A cheap cream cheese will not do the cake justice (#truestory from a friend). You’re also better off skipping blue cheese than using a cheapo brand – that will just give the cheesecake a harsh and flat saltiness (another #truestory). So you’ll probably need to make some effort to go to a supermarket with a decent cheese section, but it’ll be well worth it.
Basque Burnt Cheesecake recipe
1kg Philadelphia cream cheese, kept chilled till ready to use, then cubed to about 2cm pieces
375g caster sugar
7 large eggs
200ml whipping cream
1 to 1.5tsp sea salt
1.5 to 2.5tbsp blue cheese, cubed/crumbed to about 1cm pieces (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 240°C with convection(fan-assisted mode) turned on.
2. Meanwhile, line a 9-inch cake pan with a removable bottom (or a 9-inch springform pan) with parchment paper. There should be at least 2 inches of parchment hanging off the sides. You’ll probably need two two sheets of parchment to cover the pan; don’t worry if the parchment does not line flat along the sides.
3. Using a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese on low till it’s somewhat pliable, about 3-4min. If using a hand-mixer, this step might take longer as you’ll have to stop a few times to push out any cream cheese that gets “stuck” in your paddle/whisk attachment.
4. Once the cream cheese is pliable, mix in the sugar in a few batches till just incorporated.
5. Next, mix in the eggs one by one, followed by whipping cream.
6. Add a baseline of 1tsp sea salt and 1.5tbsp blue cheese (if using), tasting and adjusting as you go along. Blue cheeses vary a lot, so tasting is really crucial ! Mix on high for 4min, and really scrape all around the mixing bowl to ensure that everything’s properly incorporated. The cake batter should be thick but smooth.
7. Pour the cake batter into your lined pan. It’s perfectly normal for some of the folds on the parchment to stick out – that’s what gives the burnt cheesecake its characteristic grooved edges anyway.
8. Place the cake pan onto the oven’s middle rack quickly, so as not to lose too much heat, and bake for 20-25min. Check on the cake around the 20min mark. It will probably still be quite yellow at this stage but the browning would develop quickly from this point, so keep checking at least every minute. You’ll also want to check if the centre is still wobbly. With my counter-top oven, I would “shake” the oven slightly (by pushing against the oven door) to see if the cake jiggles in the centre. If that method’s not possible, just check that the cake surface doesn’t look too firm/taut.
9. Once the cake looks dark brown at the top yet still wobbly in the centre, remove it. Most ovens don’t brown evenly, but as long as about 80% of the top looks dark brown, you’re good to go. I usually take my cake out around the 23min mark – you can extend the baking by the minute if you want a darker hue but I’d advise not going past 25min. Otherwise, the centre would be too set.
10. Cool to room temperature for about 30min, then chill the cake in the refrigerator uncovered for at least 6h or overnight.
11. To serve, let the cake sit out at room temperature for about 10min before slicing. It should be soft and quite molten in the centre.
Store leftover cake in an air-tight container, good for about a week.