Three cheesecakes, from left, the original by La Viña in San Sebastian, and in the Philippines, Workshop and Gallery by Chele’s versions.
Food & Drink Features

We traced the roots of the trendy Basque Burnt Cheesecake and spoke to its unofficial ambassador

There has been an explosion of home bakers and bakeshops making this extra creamy cheesecake of Basque origin during the pandemic, but it’s much more than just the trend of the moment. By NANA OZAETA 
ANCX | Jul 03 2020

Who hasn’t heard of (if not tasted) Basque Burnt Cheesecake? Along with ube pandesal and sushi bake, it seems to have gained pandemic food trend status among Metro Manila’s food lovers. But in truth, this tarta de queso from the Basque region in Spain is nothing new. The question, then, is why has it become so popular lately, and will this trend last? Perhaps a look back at its origins may yield some clues, and a few surprises too.

April 2016 was the month and year Chef Miko Aspiras of Workshop Bespoke Bakery and Patisserie unveiled it to the Metro Manila market with the name “Basque Burnt Cheesecake” that he coined himself. “I thought ‘Basque’ because of its origin, ‘burnt’ because at that time, that term was very in, and ‘cheesecake’ because of what it is,” Aspiras recalls.

The cheesecake, with its charred top and parchment paper lining, soon became Workshop’s top seller, prompting Aspiras to serve it at his other restaurant, Le Petit Soufflé. “I never thought that it will just be a fad or rave. I think it will stay in our desserts list for a long time,” he says. 

Four years later, the dessert continues to be a bestseller at Workshop and Le Petit Soufflé (IG @workshop_ph and @lepetitsouffleph) where you can still order it today.

The top-selling Basque Burnt Cheesecake from Workshop and Le Petit Soufflé.

Aspiras took inspiration from the tarta de queso that he first tried at the famous La Viña in San Sebastian during a trip to Spain’s Basque region in December 2015. “The store opens at 7 am to 2 pm and then closes for siesta and opens again at 7 pm till late,” he recalls. “There was a super long line the entire time so we had to go back. On our third attempt, we were able to get inside the store and finally were able to buy a slice. All the whole cakes were sold already. It was worthy of all the praise. It’s made of queso blanco, burnt to perfection with a very creamy center.”

At La Viña, slices of tarta de queso reveal a soft, creamy interior. Photo by Miko Aspiras

While Filipinos have long been lovers of cheesecake, we’re more familiar with the firmer New York cheesecake with graham crust (sometimes topped with blueberries), but this tarta de queso is quite different. “I said to myself I have to discover how it’s baked and adapt it to Filipino ingredients,” Aspiras reveals, as he came up with a version very close to the original using local cream cheese from Rizal. “The process is actually the opposite of how we were taught how to make cheesecake. It is baked at a higher temperature. The texture is quite unique too, with a crusty exterior, and almost molten inside. The flavor of the burnt top makes the cheesecake irresistible.”

Aspiras’ first trial before perfecting his cheesecake.

After 2016, others came along with their own versions, most notably The Manila Baker (IG @themanilabaker) and Sourdough Café (IG @sourdoughcafedeli) in 2019. Chef Justin Golangco also came up with his “hybrid” Keso Cake (IG @keso.cake), retaining the graham crust of the New York version, but with an extra creamy filling akin to the Basque version.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Texture.

A post shared by KESO (@keso.cake) on

Chef Chele Gonzalez of Gallery by Chele (https://gallerybychele-athome.com) recently launched his own tarta de queso (called Burnt Basque Cheesecake by Chef Chele Gonzalez) as part of his takeout/delivery menu of “soul food” dishes from his Spanish heritage. “I’ve lived with this cheesecake for most of my life,” he says, having grown up in Santander, just a short drive from San Sebastian. 

While most may think that La Viña invented this cheesecake, Gonzalez provides a little more context. “I think San Sebastian is so international so La Viña became so famous, but of course other places do similar cheesecakes. I think what La Viña did was make one more step to get to that point of creaminess.”

An even dark caramel sheen on the top of the Burnt Basque Cheesecake by Chef Chele Gonzalez.

Having lived in Bilbao and San Sebastian for 10 years, Gonzalez already had recipes from San Sebastian, including the one from La Viña, and just adjusted them to make his own extra creamy version. He explains that this cheesecake is really all about texture more than anything else. “If you check the New York cheesecake, the flavor profile is not that different. It’s just the Burnt Basque Cheesecake is thicker, and it’s very, very creamy, and then you have these smoky notes.”

A creamy interior, almost like molten cheese, characterizes Chef Chele Gonzalez’s cheesecake, which he advises to keep outside the refrigerator.

While this cheesecake has been around for a long time, it recently surged in popularity since the pandemic hit and people had to stay home. “I guess because a lot of people craved for it,” says Aspiras. “But it became hard to get access to it, so people started researching and trying to make their own.” 

“People like to bake and it’s easy to find a recipe online,” says Gonzalez, “so I think even us, we’re surprised how many orders we have.” It also helps that Filipinos like saltiness and cheese in their desserts, the chef adds.

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It is, in fact, an easy dessert to fall in love with, with its familiar taste and uber creamy texture, and it helps that it looks great on Instagram, too. A quick search on Instagram yields a trove of Manila-based bakers who have come up with their own Basque Burnt Cheesecakes just in the last few months, the likes of @bakesbyhazelnut, @bakescout, @basque.mnl, @chrishas.kitchen, @decadenza.baking, @kayegarcia13, @madeandbakedph, @misispihikan, @sweetlittlekitchenph, @thedecadencemanila, @twinwhisks, @wisteria7242, @wkndbakes, to name a few.

Among the more established bakeshops, Bizu Patisserie (IG @bizuph) offers its own version, developed in collaboration with Basque chef Mikel Martija from San Sebastian, followed by its own Filipinized innovation, Ube Basque Burnt Cheesecake.

Bizu Patisserie’s Basque Burnt Cheesecake comes with strawberry coulis.

In just a few years’ time, the Basque Burnt Cheesecake has become a dessert standard, not just in the Philippines but it seems around the world, too. Google the name and you’ll find loads of articles and recipes, including the US-based Bon Appetit. Interestingly enough, the Basque Burnt Cheesecake name doesn’t appear online prior to 2016 when Aspiras coined the term for Workshop. Could he have had a hand in spreading the name, not only in the Philippines but around the world as well?

Aspiras has since moved to Australia, bringing his recipe with him. Now the executive pastry chef at the Hilton Sydney, he says he is the first one to offer this dessert in Sydney, and it has become a big hit at the hotel. The irony here, perhaps, is that while this simple tarta de queso has a long history in Spain, it’s a Filipino pastry chef who may actually be helping globalize it.