theguardian– so entranced have I become with the black-capped, crustless Basque cheesecake I had almost forgotten the delights of the classic recipe. The sort you will find from New York to Vienna, with its thick, creamy body the colour of the inside of a ripe vacherin and a texture so thick you can stand your fork up in it. The one that smells of cold milk and vanilla pods and sticks to the roof your mouth. More crucially, I had forgotten that such overwhelming gorgeousness needs a bowl of soured cream or a lightning bolt of zesty fruit.
In summer I would send a slice of the cheesecake to the table with a pale crush of cooked gooseberries or, later, a bowl of loganberries. (Mulberries, rare as hen’s teeth, with their excess of tart, carmine juice, would be heavenly.) At Christmas, slices of blood orange in a pool of pomegranate juice would work, but right now in the depths of winter, rhubarb joyously fills the role. I squirt the seeds and juice of passion fruit at the stalks before I bake them. The seeds, which you can sieve out if you wish, introduce a welcome crunch.
Rhubarb and gooseberries work with cheesecake in the much the same way they do with a jug of custard or a fool. The long, pink stalks are breakfast fodder in this house, curled up in a wooden bowl with kefir and toasted oats. At this time of year, the stalks will fall apart if you try to poach them on the hob. Better, I think, is to stack them like broken sticks of rock in a baking dish with the juice of an orange, an espresso cup of sugar and a seed-studded star of anise. They will keep their shape as they cook. The delicate, forced varieties from Yorkshire are a treat beyond measure and need only the merest dusting of caster sugar.
A good fudgy cheesecake
A cake to be eaten in small slices, with either the rhubarb (below) or a bowl of soured cream at its side. The purity of the former is hard to beat. As desserts go, this cheesecake keeps well in the fridge. The base will soften a little, but no matter. The difficult thing I find is not eating it for breakfast. Serves 8
For the base:
Nice or digestive biscuits 250g
For the filling:
cream cheese 200g
golden caster sugar 150g
eggs 3, large
egg yolk 1
double cream 150ml
vanilla extract ½ tsp
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Crush the biscuits to a fairly fine powder. You can do it in the traditional way, with a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or in a food processor. Tip the biscuits into the melted butter and stir briefly until the crumbs are coated. Set the oven at 140C/gas mark 1. Press two-thirds of the buttered crumbs into the base of a deep 20-22cm loose-bottomed springform cake tin. Set aside in a cold place to become firm. The freezer is ideal.
Put the kettle on. Put the mascarpone, cream cheese, caster sugar, eggs and extra egg yolk in the bowl of a food mixer (you will need the flat beater attachment). Finely grate the lemon zest into the cheese and sugar, then beat until thoroughly mixed. Squeeze the lemon. Fold the cream, juice of the lemon and vanilla extract into the cheesecake mix.
Wrap the base of the tin with foil, covering the base and sides with a single piece with no joins, then pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin. Lower the cake tin into a roasting tin. Pour enough of the boiled water from the kettle into the tin to come halfway up the sides of the cake tin. Slide carefully into the oven. Bake for 50 minutes, then switch off the oven and leave the cake in place to cool.
When the cake is cool, chill for a couple of hours in the fridge. Undo the spring clip, release from its tin and slide on to a plate. Press the reserved crumbs on to the sides of the cake and serve with the rhubarb below.
Baked rhubarb with passion fruit
Any rhubarb works here. But if you are using the forced version from Yorkshire check its progress after just 12-15 minutes. It needs very little cooking. As successful as this is at the side of a slice of cheesecake, it is also a fine breakfast recipe. The baked rhubarb sits happily on top of porridge or granola and has become something of a cold weather habit in this house.
The shimmering, ruby red juices can be saved and poured over sponge-cake or as a dip for madeleines as you might dip a crisp almond cantucci or an amaretto into a glass of sweet wine. (Rhubarb is my number one addition for rice pudding, too.) Or maybe simply place them into a glass and top up with sparkling water or, just perhaps, a glass of fizz. Serves 8
rhubarb 1 kg
passion fruit 6
caster sugar 4 tbsp
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Trim the rhubarb, discarding leaves and any tough or dry ends. Chop into short pieces, about 10cm in length. Pack the stems of rhubarb into a baking dish.
Slice the passion fruit in half and then, using a teaspoon, scoop the seeds and juice out into a bowl. Add the sugar and 150ml of water and mix well, then spoon over the rhubarb.
Bake the rhubarb for 30 minutes until you can pierce the stalks effortlessly with a metal skewer. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Refrigerate for a good couple of hours until the rhubarb and its juice is thoroughly chilled, then serve with the cheesecake.