san sebastian cheesecake

The Secret Behind the World-Famous burnt San Sebastian Cheesecake 

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If you’re a cheesecake lover, you’ve likely heard of the legendary San Sebastian cheesecake hailing from the Basque Country in Spain. I had the pleasure of tasting this incredibly tasty and decadent treat in San Sebastian on my recent trip to the Basque Country. 

With its burnt, caramelized top and irresistibly creamy, gooey center, this crustless cheesecake has taken the culinary world by storm in recent years. But what’s the story behind this iconic dessert, and why is it so special? Read on to uncover the secrets of the San Sebastian cheesecake.

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The Secret Behind the World-Famous San Sebastian Cheesecake 

No time to read it all? Here are the highlights:

  • -The original San Sebastian cheesecake was invented nearly 30 years ago by Santiago Rivera, owner of La Viña bar in San Sebastian’s Old Town 
  • The key is taking it out of the oven while still very jiggly inside, and intentionally burning the top 
  •  Its fame has spread worldwide, with copycat versions popping up from New York to Tokyo
  • You can make it at home with a simple recipe using just 5 ingredients – I share the original recipe below!
  • Experience making this cheesecake in San Sebastian: book this amazing cooking class

I’ve been lucky enough to visit San Sebastian on my recent trip, and while my stays were brief at just 1-2 days each time, that’s plenty of time to eat your way around this gastronomic mecca. The Old Town, while compact, contains a dizzying concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants and pintxos bars. But no foodie pilgrimage to San Sebastian is complete without tasting the city’s most famous sweet treat – the burnt Basque cheesecake at La Viña.

What Makes the San Sebastian Cheesecake Special?

  • Crustless: Unlike most cheesecakes, the San Sebastian version contains no crust. It’s just pure, unadulterated cheesecake.
  •  Burnt exterior: The top is caramelized to the point of having a burnt appearance, which lends a beautiful bittersweet flavor. 
  • Gooey, creamy inside: Underbaking is key to achieving an almost pudding-like, molten center that contrasts with the caramelized exterior.
  • Simple ingredients: Cream cheese, heavy cream, sugar, eggs, and a touch of flour – that’s it! The magic is in the technique.
Coco Tran — Curated Aesthetic Travel Blog By Film Photographer Coco Tran https://cocotran.com/san-sebastian-cheesecake/

Why is San Sebastian cheesecake famous?

San Sebastian cheesecake, also known as Basque burnt cheesecake, is famous for a few key reasons:

  1. Unique texture and flavor: It has a caramelized, almost burnt exterior that contrasts beautifully with the super creamy, gooey interior. This interplay of textures and flavors is what makes it so memorable and crave-worthy.
  2. Rustic simplicity: Unlike many elaborate cheesecake recipes, the Basque version keeps it simple with a pared down ingredients list and no crust, allowing the quality of the core ingredients to shine.
  3. Cult following: After the original version at La Viña pintxos bar in San Sebastian started gaining international attention, thanks in large part to the internet, demand for the photogenic cheesecake skyrocketed. Foodies now make the pilgrimage to San Sebastian just to taste it.

What is the difference between cheesecake and San Sebastian?

The main differences between San Sebastian cheesecake and traditional cheesecake are:

  • San Sebastian cheesecake has no crust, while most cheesecakes have a cookie or graham cracker crust
  • The top of Basque cheesecake is intentionally “burnt” and caramelized, while regular cheesecake is smooth on top
  • Basque cheesecake has a gooey, molten center from being underbaked, compared to the fully set texture of typical cheesecake
  • San Sebastian cheesecake contains flour to bind it, while many traditional recipes are flourless

What is San Sebastian cake made of?

As for what goes into a San Sebastian cheesecake, the ingredient list is actually quite simple. The original recipe from La Viña contains:

  • Cream cheese
  • Heavy cream
  • Sugar
  • Eggs
  • A small amount of flour

San Sebastian cheesecake price

the cost of the cheesecake is a reasonable 6 euro. 

How does the La Vina Basque Cheesecake taste?

It tastes extra creamy and lightly sweet–– it’s also light and fluffy and so much less dense than American cheesecake. It’s also very rich and decadent in the best possible way. One slice is plenty to share. I do think it’s unique and worth trying.

san sebastian cheesecake

History of the San Sebastian Cheesecake

Santiago Rivera, owner of the legendary La Viña bar and restaurant in San Sebastian’s Old Town, invented this unique take on cheesecake around 30 years ago. As the story goes, Santiago wanted to add a dessert to La Viña’s menu. After much experimentation, he landed on a recipe that combined elements of various cheesecakes into one pared-down, rustic version. 

While it started as a local treat, word soon emerged about Santiago’s singular creation. Thanks to the internet and social media, the once hidden gem gained international fame, with rave reviews spreading across the globe. Before long, photos of the alluring cheesecake and copycat recipes began popping up everywhere from Istanbul to Melbourne.

How To Make San Sebastian Basque Cheesecake: San Sebastian Cheesecake Recipe 

Inspired to try making it yourself? Here’s the original recipe straight from La Viña:

San Sebastian Cheesecake Ingredients 

  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) cream cheese 
  • 7 eggs
  • 400 g (2 cups) sugar
  • 1.5 tablespoons flour
  •  500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream

Instructions for making san sebasatian cheesecake


1. Preheat oven to 210°C (410°F).
2. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients in the order listed until smooth. Do not overmix.
3. Line a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper, with excess paper sticking out the sides. 
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for around 40 minutes, until top is dark brown but center is still very jiggly.
5. Remove from oven and let cool completely before removing from pan and serving. Cheesecake will collapse and crack upon cooling.

Helpful Tips:

  • Use room temperature cream cheese for easier mixing
  •  Bake on a lower oven rack to help top caramelize before inside sets
  • Cool completely (at least 4 hours) before slicing for cleanest results 
  •  Pairs perfectly with a glass of Pedro Ximénez sherry!
  • Where To Try San Sebastian Cheesecake

Of course, the ultimate San Sebastian cheesecake experience is tasting it fresh from the source at La Viña. But if a trip to Spain isn’t in the cards, this world-famous dessert can now be found at bakeries and restaurants across the globe, from the burnt Basque cheesecake at La Viña in New York to the Pablo cheesecake shops in Japan. 

I almost didn’t get a chance to try it on my last trip because when I went they sold out at 11pm––but as luck would have it–– on my second attempt to La Vina I was rewarded with the last 2 slices of the cheesecake!

However, purists argue that nothing compares to the OG version, with its inimitable texture and flavor honed through decades of experience. To try the real deal, head to La Viña in San Sebastian’s Old Town – ideally during off-peak hours to avoid the inevitable crowds clamoring for a slice! Trust me, it’s worth the wait.

La Viña
Address: Calle 31 de Agosto
Donostia-San Sebastián, Spain 
Hours: Tues-Sun 12:00-23:00

I hope this deep dive into the iconic San Sebastian cheesecake has piqued your curiosity to taste this one-of-a-kind dessert for yourself! Whether you make the pilgrimage to its birthplace in San Sebastian or whip up a homemade version, experiencing the contrasts of the caramelized crust and luscious center is a revelation. It’s no wonder this humble cheesecake has achieved global fame as the shining star of Basque cuisine.

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