Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Ruby Wonder: Rhubarb Compote, Crumble and Cobbler

Fresh rhubarb makes an appearance in spring, though I was still able find some at a farmstand in July. (I know, I should just grow my own...someday) I have always felt limited by what I could do with it, until I discovered an incredibly easy (and bizarrely addictive) way to cook it. It is also a pale pink that I find oddly beautiful. Best of all, I recently learned that you can trim, clean and cut up the pieces and then freeze them to eat for months.
I often make a rhubarb compote: I simply clean and trim the ends, cut the rhubarb in small chunks (I cut the rhubarb length-wise first if the stalks are really big). I then throw the rhubarb in a glass pan with some sugar and water and simmer it for about 30 minutes until the rhubarb falls apart. I never remember how much sugar...I just keep tasting it until it is sweet enough. I sometimes add a chunk of ginger for a deliciously spicy background. The compote can stay chilled in the refrigerator and I find myself eating it plain with a spoon. It is also wonderful with yogurt or ice cream.

However, last week Smitten Kitchen published a recipe for rhubarb cobbler. While I have been too exhausted to cook (my 3 year old thinks 5 a.m. is an appropriate time for waking up AND having a tantrum!), I was intrigued by the use of cooked egg yolks in the dough, how simple it seemed and how delicious it sounded. So, I raced out to the supermarket and forked over a ridiculous amount of money for early rhubarb. (Russo's in Waterown is selling it for under $2.00 pound!)The recipe was so good that I made it twice in one week. The dough was tender and just sweet enough (apparently because of using the cooked yolks). The compote itself was tart, but not enough to make you pucker. And, as much as I hate to push finicky (read: expensive!) ingredients, the vanilla bean made it pretty phenomenal with the soft scent lingering in the syrup. (But feel free to skip it.) It was so good that FoodieDaddy, not a rhubarb fan, ate up his whole portion while I devoured mine for breakfast. He also loved that I baked some of the dough separately into scones.

Finally, this time I grated some nutmeg and powdered ginger on top after it was cooked (FoodieDaddy is also not a ginger fan). Next time I will grate some fresh ginger directly into the rhubarb to add a hint of spice.

On a rhubarb roll, I also tried the Rhubarb Crumble published on the Smitten Kitchen site a few years ago. If anything, it was easier, not quite as fabulous, but certainly great for an end-of-a-long-day kind of dessert.
Both desserts lend themselves well to being great for guests. Prepare the toppings and clean the rhubarb. It takes minutes to toss the rhubarb with sugar, cover it with topping and pop the crumble or crisp in the oven.

Rhubarb Cobbler Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For dough
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 hard-boiled egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon half and half

For rhubarb
2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 6 cups)
1/2 cup sugar
2-inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp scraped
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, egg yolks, and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the flour resembles coarse meal. Add 2/3 cup of cream and pulse until the dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently pat it together.

Form the dough into 2-inch balls, then flatten them slightly into thick rounds. Chill for 20 minutes (and up to 2 hours). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the rhubarb in a shallow 21/2- quart casserole dish and toss with sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Arrange the biscuit rounds on top, leaving about an inch between them. Brush the biscuits with half and half and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the cobbler until the rhubarb is bubbling and the biscuits are golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.

If you have any extra biscuit dough, just lay them on a cookie sheet covered in parchment paper or foil. Put them in the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes. (I just put them on a toaster tray, right in the oven next to the cobbler.)

Rhubarb Crumble adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the topping:

1 1/3 cup flour (I used half white whole wheat flour to pretend this was healthy)
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 tablespoons sugar
Zest of one lemon (optional but it adds a nice flavor)
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Prepare topping: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars and lemon zest and add the melted butter. Mix until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate until needed.

2. Prepare filling: Toss rhubarb, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a 9 inch pie plate or 2 quart pan.

3. Remove topping from refrigerator and cover fruit thickly and evenly with topping. Place dish on a baking sheet, and bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbling beneath, about 40 to 50 minutes.

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