You have watched it while scrolling through your Instagram feed. We are talking about the burnt Basque or San Sebastian cheesecake. A cake with a surface so charred and cracked, one would easily label it as a mistake; but no, a smooth and creamy centre is revealed as a sliver is taken out.
What is the San Sebastian cheesecake?
When it comes to baking, knowing and following the rules are important, to avoid a disaster. ‘Keep your eggs at room temperature’, ‘Sift the flour’, ‘Don’t burn it’ – we have heard it all. However, with this northern Spanish recipe, burning is key and as our Editor would say, “Know the rules well enough to break it when needed.”
While it looks bungled and burnt – like a science experiment gone wrong – it is does resemble a Portuguese custard tart at first glance. As tempting as the cheesecake looks, it follows a winning formula, and one that is hard to perfect.
The original recipe was invented by Chef Santiago Rivera from the La Viña restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain, in 1990. While it only used five ingredients – cream cheese, heavy cream, sugar, eggs and flour – several variants of the cheesecake have popped up during the trend that began two years ago during the pandemic. Rivera revealed in an interview with La Vanguardia, a Catalan newspaper, that the recipe took its form after he combined ideas from several cookbooks. He baked a different cake every day, until he developed the famed San Sebastian cheesecake.
While the cheesecake’s fame has caught on the world over, especially in the UAE, the original recipe can only be sampled at Rivera’s 63-year-old restaurant back in Spain.
Make it at home
But that’s not to say that the new versions are any less tasteful. Dubai itself has a few cafés serving this enigmatic dessert.
Some recipes use cake flour, corn starch or avoid the addition of flour, while others use a variety of cheese to enhance flavour. Some bakers also caramelise the crust and ensure a New York cheesecake-like consistency, while others prefer a crust extremely burnt, such that it creates an umami flavour and a custard centre that flows out like molten chocolate when sliced.
Now that you know you what the San Sebastian cheesecake is, it is time to make this burnt yet undercooked, sweet yet bitter dessert. The only one rule – forget everything you know about making cheesecake. Try the recipe here.
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