It's not really burnt, but this glorious, famous Basque Cheesecake from Spain is baked until it's deeply caramelized outside and still ultra creamy inside - an amazing flavour combination. The cake is an absolute cinch to make - there's no crust. Just mix, pour into the pan, and bake until it gets that rich coppery burnished surface. It'll wow guests every time (and it's gluten-free, to boot!)
Forget everything you ever knew about baking cheesecake and come around to the dark side - the dark and delicious side, that is!
A 'Burnt' Basque Cheesecake doesn't follow any of the normal cheesecake rules - it's baked at very high heat, it's meant to have cracks all over the top, the center is slightly underbaked and still very jiggly coming out of the oven, it falls in the middle as it cools, the sides have large folds and cracks, it basically looks almost burnt.
This cake is kinda rough and ugly-looking. It looks all wrong, but boy does it taste all right . . . much more than all right. This cake knocks it right out of the park in the flavour department.
Welcome to the famous Basque Cheesecake (Gazta Tarta), made popular in the (you guessed it) Basque region of Spain. It was created in the 'La Viña' bar in the city of San Sebastian, where the walls are lined with shelves holding rows upon rows of this amazing cake, freshly baked (now Europe's most famous cheesecake). The cakes are removed and served to eager customers all day long; the shelves are empty by the end of each day.
Since its dramatic rise in popularity over the last 10 years, the simple Basque Cheesecake has made this area even more famous than it already is for being one of the culinary epicenters of the world. For good reason. The sheer unapologetic take-me-as-I-am presence of this cake is enough to provoke curiosity and whet appetites. The rich, comforting burnt sugar and creamy cheesecake flavours capture tastebuds and hearts. That ugly exterior belies all preconceptions as you bite into the unctuous, almost-custardy center.
There's a magic that happens on the road to almost-burnt. The sugars in the cake (and it's not really all that sweet) go through a Maillard reaction during that blast of high heat and turn deliciously, decadently caramelized. You want to take this cake right to the edge of burnt but stop short of going over the cliff. The top and sides become deeply, darkly bitter-sweet while the inside barely sets, staying lusciously soft and silky with that familiar cheesecake tang. Together in the same mouthful, they form a wonderful culinary symphony.
After one bite, you don't think of this cake as ugly anymore - it is suddenly a thing of beauty. That dark brown top is now glowing like burnished copper, the sides become undulating waves of deep mahogany and lustrous ivory, every crag and cranny inviting glorious exploration. You take bite after ecstatic bite.
Okay, so coming back to earth, what I'm really saying is - this cake is worth it. You can't mess it up!
I am sad that I didn't know about the famous Burnt Basque Cheesecake yet when we visited the Basque region on our trip to Spain and France, so I never got to taste it in its birthplace, but I am sure thrilled to know about it now. It has been a crowd pleaser every time I've made it.
'Burnt' Basque Cheesecake - Easiest Cheesecake Ever
If you're not intrigued enough yet, a Basque cheesecake is dead easy to make. There's no crust to fiddle with. As the outside caramelizes, it bakes into a sort-of crust that is sturdy enough to contain the soft, creamy center. You just beat together a few simple ingredients and pour them into a baking pan that you've lined with a big sheet of parchment paper pressed into it in casual, rustic rumples. Bake it, cool it, and that's it. (The cake contains only a small amount of flour, so it's easy to use a gluten-free flour and make it totally gluten-free. You can even skip the flour altogether and it will still set once chilled.)
It's got wow factor and comfort factor combined.
All you need is a small glass of good Spanish sherry to sip with this heavenly cake. Sheer delicious simplicity.
* * * * *
'Burnt' Basque Cheesecake
8-inch (20cm) springform pan (you can use a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan, but the cake will be flatter)
- 3 bricks (250gms/8oz. each) cream cheese, at room temperature (750 grams/1.5lbs total weight)
- 1 cup (200gms) sugar preferably natural evaporated cane sugar
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons sweet rice flour or gluten-free flour blend or all-purpose flour for non-gluten-free
- 1½ cups (360ml) heavy cream (whipping cream/double cream, 33-40% milk fat)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Grease an 8-inch (20cm) springform pan (or use a 9-inch pan, but the cake will be a bit flatter). Cut a piece of parchment paper that is large enough to fit into the pan and stick up about 2 inches (5cm) on each side (~18 inches/45cm). Line the pan with the paper, pushing it down into the pan and creasing the folds so it lies relatively flat against the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the sticking-up corners so they are about 2 inches higher than the pan, then fold the sticking-up parts out over the edges of the pan to keep the paper in place (you'll pull them up straight before baking). It's okay if the paper looks messy and rustic - that adds to the charm of the finished cake.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip the cream cheese on medium speed until it is smooth.
- Add the sugar, salt, and vanilla and beat well until everything is well mixed and very smooth.
- Add 1 egg at a time, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl before adding the next egg.
- Sprinkle over the flour and mix well.
- Add the cream in a slow stream and beat until it is incorporated and you have a smooth liquid batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then gently pull up the folded-over edges of parchment paper so they stick straight up (to keep the cake batter straight as it rises).
- Bake for 30 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 450°F (230°C) without opening the oven door. Bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the top of the cake is puffed and dark chocolate brown - nearly burnt, while the center is still jiggly when you gently shake the cake back and forth. It will set as it cools. (If using a 9-inch pan, it will take about 5 minutes less to bake, so start checking it at 45 minutes.)
- Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool (in the pan). Then refrigerate the cake in the pan, uncovered, for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.
- When ready to serve, remove the springform pan and gently tug away the parchment paper. Serve the cake chilled or at room temperature.
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How gorgeous Margaret! I've been meaning to make it for a long time but never had the chance. Perfect, I'll follow your recipe now!
Thanks so much 😊. It's such fun to bake this cake, Nicoletta! It looks a little different each time, yet tastes glorious no matter what you do to it. The best kind of recipe to have in your baking arsenal!
Just came out of the oven… smells wonderful, looks awesome. I’d love to be able to send a photo.
oooooh, so glad you tried it! 😍 It's my go-to cheesecake now. Hope you love it, too!