I find the colour of forced rhubarb to be such a welcome sight at this time of the year. Here's my recipe for Rhubarb and Vanilla Cheesecake - it feels very nostalgic for me as it brings back delicious childhood memories of rhubarb and custard sweets. This cheesecake has a shortbread base, rather than one with digestive biscuits, which I find lends itself well to the delicate flavours of the rhubarb and vanilla.
For the shortbread base:
150g plain flour
50g caster sugar
100g slightly salted butter
For the rhubarb:
400g fresh rhubarb (chopped)
50g granulated sugar
For the filling:
800g cream cheese
125g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
70ml double cream
1 vanilla pod or 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 160 degrees C/ 320 degrees F
Combine the base ingredients together in a mixing bowl by rubbing the butter into the flour and sugar with your hands, as if you were making crumble topping. Once the mixture resembles damp sand, press it into a 9 inch springform cake tin.
Chop the rhubarb into smallish chunks and toss with 50g of granulated sugar. Spread the rhubarb out over the bottom of an oven proof dish.
Place both in the oven and bake the rhubarb for 10 minutes, and the shortbread base for 20 minutes until it's turning slightly golden around the edges. Strain any juice from the rhubarb and, if you like, reserve for later as it makes a nice syrup. Allow the shortbread base and rhubarb both to cool completely.
Beat the cream cheese until it's smooth and then beat in the sugar, then add the eggs and yolks one by one. Be careful not to over beat so you don't end up with too much air in your mix. Score down the length of the vanilla pod and scrape out the little black seeds. Add them to the mixture. Finally, gently stir in the cream until evenly combined.
When cooled, spread the rhubarb over the biscuit base, then pour the filling over. The rhubarb will probably float to the top - make sure it's fairly evenly distributed. Place half of the leftover vanilla pod on top of the mix for an extra vanilla infusion.
Bake for 50 minutes - 1 hour, depending on your oven, until there is a tiny bit of wobble left on the cheesecake and some golden brown edges. If you over cook, it will start to crack, although I quite like that home-baked look, and it is more likely to happen anyway with the rhubarb in the mixture.
Allow to cool gradually in the oven with the door open (and oven switched off) for 20 minutes and then cool completely before refrigerating. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour or preferably overnight before unmoulding. Use a round edged knife or metal spatula to loosen the edge before releasing the springform. It's safer to leave the cheesecake on the cake base rather than trying to remove it and meeting disaster....
If you can manage to wait until the following day the cheesecake will be at it's best. The wait can be a bit agonising but it's worth it - breakfast has never been better!