Rhubarb and ginger crumble cheesecake

This recipe was featured on ITV's Food Glorious Food in April 2013. I adapted the recipe slightly for the show to make a bigger, taller cake, so have updated this post with the latest version of the recipe (which can also be found in the Food Glorious Food cookbook). I hope you enjoy recreating it in your own kitchen!

Yes, my dear readers. I have gone and taken two of the best desserts in existence , and combined them into one luscious, creamy, buttery, crunchy creation.

I've been wanting to make this dessert since approximately April last year, when I froze the end of the season rhubarb with the express intention of doing just that. You know the stuff - those gorgeous pink stems, such a bright and vibrant fuschia they seem almost unnatural, quite unlike anything that could possibly have sprung up from the dark, dank earth. Sadly those colours don't last - as the season progresses, those stems progressively widen, darken, become stringy and sour. Still delicious, doused in a liberal coating of snowy white sugar, but best quietly hidden beneath a mound of buttery crumble or a blanket of pastry.

I froze the bright pink stuff to use in a dessert that would really allow its colour and natural sweetness to shine. Something pure and white to exaggerate its naturally beautiful qualities. I envisaged swirling it into a simple vanilla cheesecake batter, removing my finished creation from the oven or fridge to reveal a beautiful marriage of pink and cream curled lovingly around each other. Where the idea for the crumble topping came from, I don't know.

Oh wait, I do know. Plain common sense. Why would you NOT put a crumble topping on something?

I literally cannot think of any arguments against it.

I imagined breaking through that delicious buttery crust to reveal the yielding, creamy centre of a cheesecake rippled with tangy, sweet rhubarb. Not only would it taste wonderful, but the colours would be beautiful - the contrast of the snowy white cream against the hot pink fruit, mellowed by the pleasingly muted hue of the cheesecake base and the crumble topping.

I can't believe it took me nearly a year to get round to making this a reality.

This is just one version of a whole range of possibilities based on this theme. I chose to make a baked cheesecake, because I thought the slightly denser filling would marry better with the thick crumble topping - crunchy crumble on top of a quivering, gelatinous mousse didn't seem quite right, somehow.

I made a basic cheesecake mixture with ricotta, creme fraiche, eggs and sugar, adding quite a lot of vanilla because I love vanilla with rhubarb. I roasted the rhubarb in the oven with some sugar, mashed it with a fork to make a compote, then swirled this into the cream. It was spooned over a delightful crunchy ginger nut base (I make my cheesecake bases approximately two times more thick than is normal, because why wouldn't you add more butter and biscuit than required?) and topped with a simple crumble topping.

I say simple...I added some chopped almonds for crunch and used wholemeal flour and brown sugar for a more pronounced flavour, as well as a little ground ginger to complement the rhubarb and the biscuit base. I have to say, this was a great idea - wholemeal flour and brown sugar give it a much stronger 'crumbly' flavour - you can really taste the difference. I think I'll start making all my crumble in this way from now on. Plus you can even kid yourself it's healthy as it's wholemeal (that is how it works, right?)

I wasn't really sure when to put the crumble mixture on top of the cheesecake - too early and it would sink down into the cream cheese and end up ruining everything...too late and the cheesecake would overcook in the time it took the crumble to brown. In the end I removed the cake just over halfway through the cooking time, sprinkled on the crumble and put it back in (quickly, so that it didn't sink).

Somehow (I call it cook's intuition...some, however, may just call it luck), I timed it perfectly. The crumble cooked through to a rich, golden brown, oozing bubbling caramel juices down the side of the tin. The cake was creamy, fluffy and light but held its shape.

Until I tried to cut it, that is. It's quite hard to slice through thick crumble while not making a mess of the yielding mass of cream and fruit underneath...but it's not impossible. Use a serrated knife. No one will care once they taste this.

I was thrilled with how this cake turned out. You end up with something that is part pie, part crumble, part cheesecake. The rhubarb infuses into the cream cheese mixture, turning it a delightful pastel pink colour and lending it a tangy, fruity edge that pairs so well with the mild, sweet vanilla. Then you have the utterly satisfying crunch of the biscuit base followed by the gorgeous crunchy crumble. It's almost like eating rhubarb crumble with cream on the side, but all in one mouthful and with added biscuit.

And what on earth is not to like about that?

Rhubarb and ginger crumble cheesecake (serves 8):

  • 400g rhubarb, cut into 2½cm lengths
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 drop red food colouring (optional)*
  • 1 tsp arrowroot mixed with 2 tsp cold water
  • 375g ricotta cheese
  • 300ml half fat crème fraîche
  • 1½ tbsp runny honey
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the base:

  • 60g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
  • 18 ginger nut biscuits, crushed
  • 1 egg white (optional - helps prevent the base going soggy)
  • For the crumble topping:
  • 80g wholemeal flour
  • 40g cold butter, cubed
  • 40g demerara sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 50g blanched almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • Sprigs of mint to decorate (optional)

*The food colouring is useful if you're making this with late season rhubarb (as opposed to early forced rhubarb) which is greeny brown and looks less pretty in the end result. The food colouring helps make it gloriously pink!

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5. Butter a 20cm (8in) springform cake tin.

2. Put the rhubarb into a baking dish with the sugar and water, toss together and bake for 25–40

minutes, depending on the thickness of the rhubarb, until tender. Remove and leave to cool.

3. Meanwhile, make the base. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then mix in the biscuits. Tip the

mixture into the prepared tin and press it down evenly with the back of a spoon. Brush with the

egg white (if using) and bake for 10 minutes, until golden and firm. Set aside to cool.

4. Mash the cooked rhubarb to a purée with a fork. Drain well, then add the food colouring (if using).

Pour in the arrowroot mixture and stir to thicken. Set aside to cool.

5. Put the ricotta, crème fraîche, honey, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract in a blender or food processor and whiz until combined. Transfer to a bowl and swirl the rhubarb purée through it with a

fork. Don't overmix – the idea is to create pink streaks.

6. Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and put an empty roasting tin in the

bottom of it. Butter the sides of the cake tin again, then pour the cheese mixture over the biscuit base. Cover the tin tightly with foil, then place in the oven and quickly pour a jug of cold water into the empty roasting tin. Close the oven door and bake for 30 minutes.

7. Meanwhile, make the crumble. Put the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, ginger and almonds, then gently stir in the water to form small ‘pebbles’ in the mixture.

8. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, discard the foil and spread the crumble mixture over the top of the cake. Remove the tray of water from the oven and increase the temperature to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5. Bake the cheesecake for a further 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Set aside until cool, then refrigerate until needed. Remember to bring it back to room temperature 30 minutes before serving: no one wants cold crumble! Decorate with mint sprigs if desired.