Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake

Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake
Christopher Mohs
Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake

Living in New York City, it feels as though one must have an affinity for cheesecake, absolutely delicious New York Cheesecake. When we first moved to the Big Apple, it was one of the first recipes that I whipped up, and boy was it good! As a special indulgence, we make it once a year for special occasions.

Now enter this foray into cheesecake land. Aside from the classic cheesecake, you may have noticed variations on the theme at restaurants, and cafe’s around the city and the country. Blueberry Cheesecake, Salted Caramel Cheesecake, in fact, you name the flavor, and it has likely been made into a cheesecake at some point by someone. And the Minnesota boy deep inside just couldn’t help himself from coming up with a new take on this classic.

Enter Rhubarb. If you are Minnesotan, you know this plant well (even if you aren’t from Minnesota there are several places around the country where this is a very well known plant). To us, especially I find those with deep Scandinavian roots, the flavor that one gets from rhubarb when it’s cooked down is like nectar from the gods. Sweet, tangy, oh so full of goodness. And when a good friend brought a bag full on a recent visit I couldn’t wait to put it to good use!

Astonishingly, what makes this recipe so delicious is a very basic and easy-to-make sauce, and if strawberries and rhubarb aren’t your taste, you can easily swap out the ingredients for your favorite berry.

The magic of this cheesecake comes from the final swirl before placing into the oven. Just pour your cheesecake into your springform pan and lay in large dollops of your strawberry rhubarb sauce and using a skewer or a butter knife, swirl it in getting creative with your swirls but avoiding mixing in the sauce.

Bake the cheesecake like you would a traditional recipe (with a bit longer bake time), and done. 12 hours of the bake, cool, and wait, and you have one showstopper dessert.

Strawberry Rhubarb Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the Sauce
1 cup Rhubarb (diced)
1 cup Strawberries (diced)
1/2 cup Sugar

For the Crust
3 cups graham cracker crumbs (20 crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp Cinnamon

For the Filling
2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 whole extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
Zest of 2 lemons
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Make the sauce the day before to allow time for the sauce to cool and set. In a medium saucepan place the rhubarb and sugar and let sit for about 2 hours (this allows the juices to begin coming out of the rhubarb). After two hours, add the strawberries and blitz with a stick blender to a smooth puree. Insert a candy thermometer and cook over medium-high heat bringing the mixture to a boil and then cooking for 20-25 minutes adjusting the temperature to ensure the mixture does not exceed 220 degrees F. In the early part of the boil you will want to skim off the foam that gathers in the middle of the pan. Eventually, the mixture will start to expand (why it’s essential to use a medium saucepan) and bubble up high. After about 5 minutes this will calm back down, and the sauce will be just about thick enough. Cook an additional 5-10 minutes until you have a nice loose jam-like consistency. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, set out cream cheese and eggs a good hour before you begin making the cheesecake to allow these ingredients to come to room temperature which is critical to a great cheesecake.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Do this step about 30 minutes before making the filling to allow adequate time for the crust to cool.

To make the crust, put graham crackers in a food processor to get to a crumb state. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and mix these dry ingredients, so they are well incorporated.  Then melt the butter and add to the mixture and combine until moistened. Pour into a 9-inch spring-form pan (I like to grease the sides and line with parchment paper for easy removal from the pan). With your hands, press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and about 1-inch up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature (I often place in the fridge to speed up this process).

Raise the oven temperature to 425 degrees F.

To make the filling, cream the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. On medium-high speed, mix for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy (you’ll do a lot of mixing and beating, this helps make the batter light, airy and ultimately a light and fluffy cheesecake). Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the eggs and egg yolks, 2 at a time, mixing well. Scrape down the bowl and beater a few times to make sure the mixture is well combined. With the mixer on low, add the sour cream, lemon zest, and vanilla. Mix thoroughly and pour into the cooled crust (don’t bother scraping the bowl as this may dislodge chunks of batter that weren’t mixed as well at the bottom, just let as much of the mixture flow out of the bowl as possible and toss to the sink).

Next, spoon the strawberry and rhubarb sauce over the top of the cake and swirl it through with a skewer or knife (be careful not to puncture or damage the crust. Have fun with the swirls, but be careful not to mix the sauce into the cheesecake batter.

For best results, you’ll want to bake your cheesecake in a water bath. Baking in a water bath will help keep a nice amount of moisture in the oven and prevent burning.  To do this wrap aluminum foil up the bottom of the springform pan in a way to stop water from leaking into the pan.  Then set this in a larger baking or roasting pan with higher sides and fill with hot water just enough to come about a 1/2 inch to an inch up the side of the springform pan but not so high that it tops the aluminum foil liner.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F. Turn the oven temperature down to 225 degrees F and bake for another 1 hour and 45 minutes. At this stage you will want to test the wobble of the cake, this is how you know if it’s set yet or needs additional time at 225 degrees F. This will take practice, but it should just jiggle slightly (like a jello that has firmly set). If it seems too fluid, then it likely is – bake an additional 10 minutes. Once you have a good wobble, turn the oven off and open the oven door wide.

Leave the cake in the oven for an additional 30 minutes; this will allow the cake to cool slowly and start to set in the center. Remove the cake from the oven after 30 minutes and let sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours so that the cake can cool completely.  I place a kitchen towel over the cake to protect the cake.  After the cake has cooled, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight or at least for 6-8 hours to adequately chill before serving.

Remove the cake from the spring-form pan and peel back the parchment paper.  Leave the cake on the bottom of the spring-form pan for serving.