Petite Cheesecakes with rhubarb
Beauty does not come without pain. Individual desserts are infinitely more elegant than whole, but certainly more of a palaver. Pure vanity is the reason we persist; they have the glamour factor. The idea for small cheesecakes came to me last summer when I was trying to write a portable summer menu for BBC Good Food magazine. First I tried baking them in cupcake liners. Technically it worked, but they were NOT pretty. Next I tried baking them in the cupcake tin but couldn’t get them out. Eventually I lined the bottom of the tin with some baking paper and it resulted in triumph. Since these cheesecakes were going on a picnic I figured the fruit topping should be set. My friend Penny told me about Agar, a Japanese natural gelling agent made from sea vegetables. Health food stores and most supermarkets stock it regularly. Unlike regular gelatin, which produces a rubbery texture, this is subtle and light. If you can’t find it then substitute cornflour/constarch. Any fruit like berries, can substituted. Sour rhubarb is a particularly good foil for creamy cheesecake, but pick your favorite.
Petite cheesecakes with rhubarb
preparation time 30 minutes, cook time 35 minutes
makes 12 small cakes
150g/5oz digestive biscuits or graham crackers
3 tbsp melted butter
500g/1 lb cream cheese
100g/4oz castor sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g or 3 thin stalks rhubarb
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp castor sugar
1 tbsp agar
Preheat oven to 180c/350f. Line the bottoms of a regular size cupcake/muffin pan with circles of baking parchment. A little butter will help them stick to the pan. Crush the biscuits in a food processor and then mix with the melted butter. Divide the mixture between the 12 cups and then press flat with the bottom of a small glass. Bake for 5 minutes and remove. Turn the oven temperature down to 150c/300f. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, mascarpone and sugar until smooth. Scrap the sides down and then add the eggs one at a time along with the vanilla and lemon. Beat again until smooth and then pour into the pan. It fills all 12 cups to the brim and you might think it looks like its too much. Don’t fret because they will puff up big in the oven and then sink back in after cooling. Bake for 25 minutes at the lower temperature of 150c and then let sit in the oven for a few minutes. Let cool and then cover and refrigerate. Ideally this stage should be done the day before to get a fudge-like texture. If not chill at least 5 hours.
To make the topping, cut the rhubarb into 3cm pieces. Place in a baking dish with the orange juice and sugar and bake for 10 minutes at 180c/350f. Remove and add the agar flakes. Bake for another 5 minutes and then remove to cool. If using berries, then place in a saucepan with a few tbsp water. Bring to a boil and add the agar. Simmer for 5 minutes and then let cool. Spoon the fruit topping in the centre of each cake and then refrigerate until set. They only take about 30 minutes to become firm.