Move aside, Levain-style cookies. There’s a new viral bake that’s taking the digital world by storm. Introducing the Basque cheesecake.
But before we delve into the magical qualities that made this cheesecake go viral, we’ve got to answer the most important question: What in the world is a Basque cheesecake?
The Basque cheesecake originated from the city of San Sebastián, the capital city in the Basque region in Spain. The city sits on the Spain-France border, which has led to a cultural mish-mash, that pays homage to the two countries.
A quick Google search revealed that this unusual form of burnt cheesecake comes from La Viña Restaurante, helmed by 60-year-old head chef Santiago Rivera. The cake was first created back in the 1990s but gained its virality only 30 years later — I guess the saying ‘great things take time to develop’ is highly apt in such context.
The cake is no looker with its burnt top and irregular circular shape. Its looks hold a candle to none when compared with the classic New York style cheesecake. So what makes this burnt cheesecake so popular?
Its appeal lies not in its looks, but its simple recipe that is honestly harder to mess up than expected. Thus, this burnt cheesecake makes for a really good recipe for beginner bakers who want to dip their toes in the world of hobby-baking, with a foolproof, sure-achievable recipe.
And that explains how it has gained virality only in this decade.
The COVID-19 pandemic has consigned us to stay indoors, forcing us to find new hobbies or rekindle old passions that we never had the time to do with a busy 9-to-5 job. People have been picking up home baking worldwide, and what better way to restart the baking engines than to bake a good ol’ cheesecake, one that’s literally foolproof and impossible to mess up?
The cheesecake is to be cooked at a high heat. You are expected to burn the surface (as with its name), giving it its signature brown sheen. You dump the cheesecake into a baking tin, haphazardly lined with parchment paper sticking out from every corner. The cheesecake is supposed to sink-in in the centre, a sight that promises the creamy and gooey centre that is achieved only through underbaking. Hearing these terms without any context would make a professional baker go ballistic, but hey, that’s the beauty of what makes the Basque burnt cheesecake so unique.
Despite the lack of attention and subpar job in making the cake, the results would astound you. The cheesecake, just like it’s New York cousin, retains its light, fluffy, and pillowy texture, with a beautiful pasty pale yellow hue beneath its brown surface. The charring on the top gives it an extra burst of flavour, a combination of caramel and molasses, achieved only through the successful charring of sugar. For some bakers, who prefer living on the edge, push the char to the extreme, which gives off a toasty bitterness, that oddly complements and cuts the sweetness of the cream cheese. But the star of the entire cheesecake would be its viscous cream centre, accomplished only through (proper) underbaking. The gooey centre is reminiscent of a lava cake, and gives a delightfully unctuous mouthfeel that wraps up the whole eating experience.
The Basque burnt cheesecake has made its mark globally, popping up in both high-end and off-the-street bakeries worldwide. Although you can’t directly compare it with the richness and more sophisticated taste with its New York counterpart, the Basque burnt cheesecake still has its appeal. A rustic appeal, that is. Its shabby ‘plating’ gives off a sense of warmth and homeliness, as if it was done with the purest intentions of a mother feeding her kids. The cheesecake is usually styled with a more austere theme in mind, where simple is more, and appearances are secondary to taste.
As with many other viral dishes, bakers enjoy creating alternate flavours of the classic, and the Basque burnt cheesecake is no exception. A speculoos rendition seems to be a favourite among home bakers, probably because its nutty and toasty flavour compliments the char of the cheesecake. More posh bakeries are experimenting with using beurre noisette, or commonly known as brown butter, to give the already flavourful cheesecake an extra oomph to its profile.
Singaporeans are not short on imaginativity as well. Local bakeries have been giving a local twist on the otherwise exotic offering. GRUB Burger Bistro, located in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, offers a kaya rendition ($9/slice) alongside the classic burnt cheesecake ($9/slice), that is dyed a minty pastel green and filled with coconut and pandan flavours. Brown sugar bubble tea fanatics would go crazy over the Da Hong Pao Burnt Cheesecake ($51.90/7-inch cake) offered at Teaspoon of Love, an online bakery offering a myriad of imported tea leaves and baked goods. However nothing spells out a quintessential Singapore flavour than the Mao Shan Wang Burnt Cheesecake ($86/7-inch cake), offered at Keong Saik Bakery.
Whether you are craving for a classic Basque burnt cheesecake or one that is peppered with our local culture, one thing’s for sure: this easy-to-make cheesecake has won the hearts of everyone worldwide and is most probably here to stay for the long-run.