Over a year ago, I had a sudden burst of culinary inspiration, arising from that notoriously profound and powerful motivator: sheer, unabashed greed. Exhausted by one too many episodes of menu indecision when it came to choosing dessert in a restaurant, I decided to combine my two favourite desserts into one glorious whole. Thus, the rhubarb ginger crumble cheesecake was born.
It was a quiet and humble success, enjoyed by myself and a few friends and family in the comfort of my own kitchen. Now, many months later, the phrase 'rhubarb crumble cheesecake' is the term that leads the most people, via google, to my blog. What happened?
'What happened' was a small and widely acknowledged failure of a TV show called 'Food Glorious Food'. Eye caught by the show's request for participants back at the beginning of last summer, I was convinced that my recipe exemplified the best of British home cooking that they were searching for. It involved crumble, quintessentially British. It featured rhubarb - again, one of our few home-grown national culinary treasures. It was a proper, decent pudding. Not a fancy French dessert, but a pudding - big, bold and hearty, the kind of thing you serve in wedges and definitely don't adorn with a tuile or a coil of spun sugar.
The team behind the show obviously thought I was in with a chance too, because I was submitted for various interviews and tortuous phone calls. Then filming actually began, and I was thrown into a maelstrom of stress, tears, forgotten ingredients and soggy cheesecake attempts. It was one of the least pleasant experiences of my life, and definitely one of the most stressful. None of this, I would like to add, was down to some self-indulgent notion of 'pressure to win', anxiety in front of the cameras, or nervousness about hearing what Lloyd Grossman thought of my cheesecake (for the record, I couldn't care less). No, it was simply down to the complete chaos that is the process of television filming, and I imagine it is the case for any show, anywhere.
It taught me a valuable lesson, and I don't think I'll be submitting myself to that horrendous process ever again. Low points include having to transport two cheesecakes in a giant coolbag on a six-hour journey across the country that involved three changes of train and two taxis, and having to bake said cheesecakes at 4am that morning because the version I'd made, in an organised fashion, the night before went into the oven before I realised I'd forgotten a crucial ingredient. There were tears.
So, funnily enough, the last time I made my beloved rhubarb ginger crumble cheesecake was for the last round of the show, back in October. It lost its joy and charm for me, after having to make it so many times and in so many fraught situations. It's not that I didn't consider it - there were a few times when I remembered the delicious bite of that buttery, crunchy crumble against the sweet, smooth, vanilla-scented filling with its tangled mass of tart rhubarb, and almost changed my mind. But there were too many demons there, and I didn't feel like I had the energy to exorcise them.
OK, that was a bit self-indulgent and sentimental. What I actually mean is, "I realised I'd rather make Paul Hollywood's recipe for chocolate and pecan pie instead, because...er...chocolate and pecan pie."
But a couple of days ago, something changed. Who knows what. Perhaps it is just that enough time has finally crept between me and those traumatic days of cheesecake-induced madness to soothe the pain. Perhaps it was because I suddenly felt that familiar greed again, the need to combine my two favourite desserts into one - I want to say 'glorious', but that word is ruined forever now - entity. Perhaps it was because I had a glut of gooseberries, my favourite summer fruit, and I suddenly realised that I could swap rhubarb for gooseberries and create a fabulous summer version of what is, despite everything, fundamentally a damn good pudding (regardless of what Lloyd Grossman thinks).
I think it was all of the above.
So, in the spirit of healing old wounds and celebrating progress (or something), here it is. The rhubarb has been replaced with gorgeous perfumed gooseberries, cooked until tender in elderflower to bring out their muscat fragrance and stirred lightly through the vanilla-scented batter. The ginger base remains the same. The crumble has a hint of nutmeg in addition to the ginger, and the almonds have been replaced with wholesome jumbo oats (you could still use chopped almonds, though - I just happened to be making this for someone with a nut allergy).
Other than that, it's the same - the same delicious buttery ginger biscuit base, the same fudgy vanilla-flecked cheesecake mixture, sweet and silky, the same thick, crunchy crumble topping. This time it is peppered with the beautiful fragrant bite of soft gooseberries. And this time, it was made on a beautiful relaxed summer's day with the windows open and the birds singing. No ingredients were forgotten. No tears were shed. And this humble cake, rather than spending six hours on a train to Gloucestershire, had no further to travel than the distance from my fridge to my living room, where it was enjoyed in a sedate and relaxed fashion by people who were not Lloyd Grossman.
Which is a pretty perfect outcome, I think. I'd say those demons have been successfully banished.
Gooseberry, elderflower and ginger crumble cheesecake (serves 8):
- 400g gooseberries, topped and tailed
- 2 tbsp elderflower cordial
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp arrowroot or cornflour
- 15 ginger nut biscuits (or digestives)
- 60g butter
- 250g ricotta
- 200ml half-fat creme fraiche
- 1 tbsp honey
- 90g caster sugar
- 2 large eggs
- Seeds from 1 vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 80g spelt or wholemeal flour
- 40g cold butter, cubed
- 40g demerara sugar
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 50g jumbo oats
- 1 tbsp cold water
Put the gooseberries, elderflower and sugar in a small saucepan and heat gently until the gooseberries start to burst and release their juice. Simmer gently for a minute until they have softened but are mostly still holding their shape. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Taste - if they are too sour, add a little more sugar (you want them to be fairly tart, though, to offset the sweetness of the cheesecake). Mix the arrowroot/cornflour with 2 tbsp cold water to form a paste, then stir into the gooseberries to thicken them.
Pre-heat the oven to 170C. Put an ovenproof dish with steep sides in the bottom of the oven. Blitz the biscuits in a blender. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the biscuits and mix well to combine. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin, then press the biscuits firmly into the bottom to form the base crust. Bake for 10 minutes until golden, then set aside to cool while you make the filling (leave the oven on, but lower the temperature to 160C).
In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, creme fraiche, honey, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add the gooseberries and stir gently, but don't overmix. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, and then cover the tin tightly with foil. Put in the oven, and as you do so, pour a jug of cold water into the dish in the bottom of the oven, to create steam and give the cheesecake a silky texture. Bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the crumble. With your hands or a food processor, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, ginger, nutmeg and oats. When the cheesecake time is up, remove it from the oven, and remove the foil. Scatter the crumble mixture evenly over the top of the cake (gently, so as not to mess up the cake which is still only partially cooked). Remove the tray of water from the oven, then return the cake and increase the temperature to 170C. Bake for a further 30 minutes, until the crumble is golden and the cheesecake is set, with only a very slight wobble in the centre. Leave to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving.