Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rhubarb Coffee Cake - A Surprise Hit

Rhubarb and friends at Iovine's

When we went to buy rhubarb from the Market, we were surprised to see it piled up alongside the parsnips and artichokes, rather than nestling with the fruits.  Turns out that rhubarb is properly speaking a veggie, not a fruit, and is related to buckwheat. 

As fruits (or rather vegetables) go, rhubarb is moderately priced and a little goes a long way.  It has an intense, exceptionally tart flavor, which some love and many don't.  (When I mentioned that I was making a rhubarb dessert to friends, with one exception, the universal response was a wrinkling of the nose).  This reaction is difficult for me to fathom as in the U.K., rhubarb and custard is a staple dessert on the school menu in Winter; rhubarb swirled in a cream/mascarpone fool is a Summer favorite and rhubarb and strawberry pie needs no explanation or apology - it's simply delicious all year round!

If you're not familiar with rhubarb then it's easy to make mistakes when cooking with it.  Two golden rules to remember:

1.  Load the fruit up with sugar or honey when cooking - you can't overestimate the amount of sugar you need to use to cut down the rhubarb's natural acidity (which probably goes to explain why rhubarb leaves have anti-bacterial properties...thanks to Lifestyle Lounge: Health and Fitness for this piece of trivia.)

2.  Don't overcook rhubarb or it will turn into a watery slimy mush.  In most baked recipes, there's no need to precook the rhubarb - chop the rhubarb into small bite-sized pieces and the rhubarb cooks into the cake/pie.  This way it retains its shape and a slightly crunchy texture.

Chunks of glorious, fragrant pink rhubarb

I found this wonderful recipe on an intriguing website, called The Rhubarb Compendium.  It was great to find a kindred spirit who is as excited about this fruit/vegetable as I am.  Check out this site for pages and pages of glorious and fun recipes. 
Rhubarb Bundt Cake by Claire

Moist Rhubarb Coffeecake


2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 egg
1 cup plain low fat yogurt
1/2 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups uncooked rhubarb, coarsely chopped

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the egg and sugar then add the yogurt, applesauce, and vanilla. Stir into the flour mixture until blended, then add the chopped rhubarb and mix well. Turn into a 9-inch square pan that is greased or sprayed with non-stick spray. Sprinkle top with remaining sugar. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until the cake tests done in the center.

Mascarpone Cream:

1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup sugar (to taste)
1 tsp vanilla

Whip all ingredients on high until mixture thickens and holds shape.  Keri uses this cream all the time on cakes, pies, tarts, fresh fruit.  It transforms a dessert, making anything and everything palatable.

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