Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars with Streusel Topping (& cake stands)

Two weeks ago I broke one of my favorite coffee mugs. It was vintage, stoneware, and had “Home, Sweet Home” written on it in a glorious script. It slipped out of my hands while doing the dishes and the handle broke right off. It’s still lying in the sink drain – I can’t bring myself to throw away the last piece of it.

I don’t know why we form attachments to material objects like that. But it’s happened to me time and time again (my china cabinet full of Pyrex and coffee cup collection can speak to this). I’ll come across something and feel tethered to it, wanting it in my world – to make it fuller, brighter.

It happened earlier this week with a cake stand. Seth and I were in a local furniture store, perusing the floors for items to fill his new home. Then, in the corner, I saw it, made a beeline straight for it, grabbing it hungrily. I held it in my hands, felt the smooth glass, the weight of it. It was unique, beautiful. I wanted it. Desperately.

But it was too much. More than I wanted to spend on a cake stand, a prop for photos, another dust collector. I put it down and we continued up the next two flights of stairs – testing couches, mattresses, chairs. Three floors up, we sat on a couch together, the steel colored fabric matching the overcast sky outside. The large windows behind us let in more than enough light despite the clouds, the constant drizzle quietly tapping against the panes. We dissected the couch, its pros and cons, compared it to others we’d sat on, imagined his home, someday our home. My head rested on his shoulder, my mind drifted to the ground floor, back to the display.

We readied to leave, heading back down the stairs. I wandered back over to the shelf holding the cake stand. I picked it up again, made a mental note to come back for it some other day, and put it back.

“We can do 30% off,” the saleswoman said.

“No, no, that’s ok.” I said.

“She’ll take it,” Seth said.

“What? No!” I protested.

“We’ll take it,” he insisted, reaching for his wallet.

I couldn’t believe it. I never expected him to do this, let him know he didn’t have to, it wasn’t expected of him.

“I can. I want to. I’m going to.”

He smiled down at me, paying the saleswoman. She gently wrapped up the cake stand between layers of tissue paper and bubble wrap. I took it gingerly – my cheeks aching from smiling so big, my eyes bouncing between the bag in my hands and the man by my side.

Outside, Seth opened my door, (something else I have told him he doesn’t have to do, but am grateful whenever he does.) and I looked up at him, stood on my tiptoes and kissed him. Despite the rain and the gray day, I felt bright, light. In awe of my gift, and the cake stand he’d just bought me. The heft of the bag, still in my hands, was the only thing keeping my feet on the ground.

“Thank you.”

He knew it was thanks for more than just opening my door that time.

Cake stands aren’t Seth’s thing – not something he understands or gets attached to, but he saw the way I looked at it, the excitement dancing across my face, knew what it meant to me in those first few moments I held it. That’s why he bought it for me. To support me, surprise me.

I’ve come to realize that’s a big part of a relationship – getting excited about your partner’s excitement. Even if it’s not your thing, even if you don’t “get” it. So Seth may not “get” cake stands, but he certainly gets me. And that’s one of the best gifts he could ever give me.

Seth makes an effort to understand me on all levels – inside and out. That was the inspiration behind these Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars. Rhubarb has never really been my thing, I feel it is something akin to sour celery, I don’t get it. But he likes it. Grew up eating it in pies and cakes and bars. It grows plentifully in his parents’ yard. We harvested some the day after he bought my cake stand and I knew I had to make him something with it. Something to go on the cake stand. Something to say thank you, I understand you, I love you.

That something is always cheesecake.

Streusel Topped Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars

For the Rhubarb Compote:

2 cups chopped rhubarb

½ cup sugar

2 TBSP orange juice

Pinch of salt

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan, stirring to coat rhubarb in sugar, and cook over medium heat until rhubarb is tender and has reduced by about half, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

For the crust:

6 oz. shortbread cookies

3 TBSP flour

1 TBSP sugar

Pinch of salt

6 TBSP unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 baking pan with spray and set aside.

In a food processor, pulverize the shortbread until only fine crumbs remain. In a medium mixing bowl add the cookie crumbs, flour, salt, and sugar – whisking to combine. Pour butter over the cookie mixture and stir with a fork until the mixture resembles wet sand.

Press into prepared baking pan and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven when lightly browned and allow to cool on rack.

For the streusel:

½ cup flour

¼ cup brown sugar

3 TBSP unsalted better, melted

Whisk together the flour and sugar before stirring in the butter to create a shaggy dough that sticks together when squeezed.

For the cheesecake:

12oz. softened cream cheese

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup sour cream, at room temperature

½ cup whole milk, at room temperature

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the softened cream cheese until light and fluffy, add the sugar and beat on medium-high until smooth, light, and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing on medium until fully incorporated. Stir in vanilla, sour cream, and milk until blended and smooth.

Pour over prebaked crust and the dollop rhubarb compote over the top. Swirl with a knife to incorporate and sprinkle with streusel.

Bake in preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes, until center only slightly jiggles and the streusel has browned.

Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge for at least four hours, or preferably overnight.

Recipe adapted from Midwest Living.

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