Rhubarb Buckle, Revisited

rhubarb buckle

Ok, I think I’ve got this. An old recipe for blueberry buckle printed in the “Letters” section of the July 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine led me to just the crust I had longed for after making my first buckle last week. This dough, made with egg yolks and a little cream, yields the perfect bottom crust — not too cakey, not too crisp, a slightly sweet, perfectly sturdy layer that really allows the rhubarb to shine.

Anyway, I hate to bore you with the same dish two Fridays in a row, but rhubarb season is fleeting and so getting to the bottom (ha ha ha) of this buckle business was of utmost importance. Martha said it best: “This dessert belongs in everyone’s outdoor entertaining file.”

But if you blink and miss rhubarb season altogether, don’t despair. I suspect blueberries and peaches and every other wonderful stone fruit and berry will make dream-worthy buckles all summer long.

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb & sugar

rhubarb buckle

Rhubarb Buckle
Adapted from Martha Stewart and Rosebank Farms Café via Gourmet Magazine, July 2004
Yield = 16 squares

A few notes: I thought the buckle I made last week could have used a little more streusel, so I doubled up this week and topped the buckle with a more generous layer of streusel. I did have a little bit leftover (about a heaping 1/2 cup), which I threw in the freezer. And, I did have some leftover dough as well — I used about 3/4 of the dough recipe for this buckle. I plan on making mini homemade pop tarts with the remaining dough? Thoughts? I’m sure you all have wonderful ideas as well, and if you care to share, I would love to hear. I’m too often guilty of letting dough scraps go to waste.

Also, if you prefer more of a cake-bottomed buckle, view this post.

13 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick cold, unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I used whole milk and 1/2 and 1/2…all I had)

Crumb Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Make the crust: Whisk together flour and sugar in a large bowl. Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together yolks and cream with a fork and stir into flour mixture until combined. Gently knead mixture in bowl with floured hands just until a dough forms. Flatten dough into a 6-inch disk and chill, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with rack in center position. Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

3. Stir together rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar and lemon zest; set aside to macerate. Note: I did this step right before I started rolling out the dough. When I dumped the rhubarb into the pan, it hadn’t soaked up all of the sugar — in other words, the sugar was still very much visible, but it didn’t seem to make a difference that it hadn’t macerated for very long. I dumped rhubarb and all of the remaining sugar straight into the pan.

4. Crumb topping: Stir together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add the butter and mix up with your fingers until clumps form. Set aside.

5. Unwrap dough. OK, because the dough recipe yields enough for a 9×13-inch pan, cut off about a quarter of the dough and set it aside. Roll out the bigger portion of the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper (or wax paper) into a 10×10-inch square, or as close to this shape as possible. Peel off top layer of parchment and invert dough into prepared baking pan. Trim up the dough where it creeps a little bit up the sides of the pan; patch the corner holes (if any exist) with trimmed dough.

6. Top this crust layer with rhubarb mixture, and sprinkle with as much crumb topping as you would like — as I noted above, I was left with about a heaping half cup of streusel topping. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for about 35 minutes more or until golden on top and cooked through. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack, then lift cake from pan using parchment. Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.

rhubarb buckle

Rhubarb Buckle

rhubarb buckle

In the wonderful world of bottom-crusted crumb-topped baked-fruit desserts, buckles are new to me. And I’m a fan. I love how the crispy top melts into the stewed fruit, which all sinks into the base. And I like that I can eat it as I would a brownie, out of hand, making for easy snacking morning, noon and night.

But I think I would like a buckle even more if it were different. I know, I hate to be picky, but I’m not looking to change much. The layer of rhubarb in this buckle is perfect — not too sweet, not too tart, which in my experience is a delicate balance to achieve with rhubarb. And the crumb top, while just a touch sandy, needs nothing more than a dab of butter to give it that crumbly, pebbly texture. The addition of lemon zest, adding a wonderful fresh, bright flavor, is essential.

It’s the base of the buckle that leaves me wanting. I want something less cakey, more sturdy, not quite a pie crust but something a little more buttery and shortbread like. Thoughts? Would a shortbread crust turn this dessert into a fresh-fruit crumb bar? Removing it from the buckle category altogether? I’m not sure I want that. Or do I?

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb

rhubarb & lemon

rhubarb & sugar

assembling the buckle

rhubarb buckle

Update 4/27: I found the perfect crust. View this post: Rhubarb Buckle, Revisited

Rhubarb Buckle
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield = 16 squares

Note: I made a half recipe, but if you want to make the whole recipe, find it here.

Other notes: As I noted above, I am not totally satisfied with the base of this buckle, but just know that that didn’t keep me from eating five pieces within an hour of cutting it up. I’d like to try this recipe with more of a shortbread crust, but as of now, I don’t have a recipe for one. This is a work in progress. I’ll report back when I find a base layer that I prefer. Or if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Cake Ingredients:

13 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used table salt)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1.5 large eggs*
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream

*The doubled recipe calls for 3 eggs, so I whisked up 3, weighed them, and used half, which was about 1/3 cup or 2 7/8 ounces.

Crumb Topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened*

*I’ve upped the amount of butter here and changed it to softened rather than melted. I think the crumb topping needed more butter, and I like using softened butter in a crumb topping.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center position. Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper. Stir together rhubarb and 1/2 cup sugar; set aside to macerate.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and the lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, a little at a time, then beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

3. Crumb topping: Stir together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and mix up with your fingers until clumps form. If it’s looking dry, add another tablespoon of butter and mix again until clumps form. Add remaining tablespoon of butter if necessary.

4. Spread batter into pan. Top with rhubarb mixture, and sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake until golden on top and cooked through, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack, then lift cake from pan using parchment. Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.

rhubarb buckle

IndriVanilla Beans & Buttermilk Panna Cotta

indri vanilla beans

Until about a month ago, I had altogether stopped purchasing vanilla beans. I couldn’t justify paying $12 for a single bean — a desiccated looking one at that — at the grocery store when I could substitute vanilla extract with little harm done.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered IndriVanilla, a source for Fair Trade, organically grown vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices — I ordered 19 beans online for a grand total of $13.50 including shipping. The beans arrived just days after I placed the order, their beautiful fleshy bodies visible through the cryovacked pack.

I didn’t want to break the seal, but I couldn’t resist. I snipped the corner, releasing a waft of vanilla aroma, and pulled out the bundle of tightly nestled glistening beans. But holding the pods in my hands wasn’t enough, nor was inhaling their perfume as I ran them under my nose. I grabbed my knife and made an incision, prying open the seam with the blade to reveal the caviar. Vanilla caviar — it’s an incredible sight. How could these beans cost only 50 cents a piece?

I contacted the company to learn more. The owner of IndriVanilla buys the beans directly from a farmer in Indonesia at his asking price. Without a middleman involved in the exchange, prices stay low. What’s more, this family-run co-op practices sustainable growing methods, using sheep to fertilize the crops and to control insect populations, precluding the need for pesticides, insecticides or synthetic fertilizers. While this farm has been growing organically for over ten years, they are not yet certified, the high cost of certification prohibiting the process at the moment.

So many recipes — Balzano apple cake, vanilla ice cream, homemade vanilla extract — flashed in my mind as I stared at that split-open bean, but I decided on panna cotta, a recipe I’ve been meaning to revisit after recently discovering my go-to recipe to be too sweet. I found this Claudia Fleming recipe on Saveur.com and frankly can’t find a thing wrong with it. Creamy, beautiful and delicious, it’s a perfect medium for showcasing these beans.

I know it’s still January, and we really shouldn’t be thinking about creamy desserts just yet, but keep this one in mind for Valentine’s Day, which is right around the corner. Those of you who have already made panna cotta know that it doesn’t get much more simple than this in the dessert department. It can be made ahead — several days in advance in fact — and the only cooking involved is bringing a little cream to a boil.

And if you don’t have time to whip anything up for a special someone, I think these beans alone would make a lovely gift. A bundle of vanilla beans, perhaps tied with a red ribbon? It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.

buttermilk panna cotta

buttermilk panna cotta

indri vanilla beans

pot of cream

strainer

whisking

buttermilk panna cotta

This is how the vanilla beans arrive — in a nice cryovacked pack. After you break the seal and are ready to store the remaining beans you are not using, it’s important to get the beans back into an air-sealed environment. If you have a FoodSaver, that is ideal, but that could become a pain if you are planning on using the beans frequently. The owner of IndriVanilla advises coiling them up and storing them in a glass jar with a rubberized lid and coiled ring. I bundled mine up really tightly in plastic wrap and then stored them in a mason jar. They seem to be staying very fresh. Pictured below are the premium beans — I have yet to open these beauties.
IndriVanilla beans

empty ramekin

Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Source: Claudia Fleming via Saveur
SERVES 6

Notes from Saveur: This recipe is adapted from one in Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course (Random House, 2001). Panna cotta means cooked cream.

1 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 cups heavy cream*
7 tbsp. sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

*If you want to lighten it up a bit, you could substitute whole milk (probably even 1% or 2%) for the heavy cream. This might alter the texture a bit, but I imagine the flavor will still be nice.

1. Soften gelatin in 1 tbsp. cold water in a medium bowl for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put cream and sugar into a small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod into pan, then add pod. Heat cream over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, 3–5 minutes, then stir into bowl with gelatin. Stir in buttermilk, then strain into another bowl.

2. Divide custard between six 8-oz. ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. To unmold, dip ramekins into a dish of hot water, then invert custards onto plates. (Note: I don’t invert — I prefer serving the panna cotta in their ramekins with a spoon.) Garnish with raspberries or other fruit, if you like.

empty ramekin

Rum Balls — So Easy, So Pretty, So Delicious

rum balls in gift box

It’s December 23rd. I’ll keep this brief. Rum balls are delicious. They are perfect for a crowd. They are perfect as a gift. They are perfect little bites of boozy goodness. I can’t think of a more perfect treat to have on hand this time of year.

What’s more, the batter takes all of about 5 minutes to whip up (if you have a food processor) and shaping, about 20 minutes more. I’m certainly not trying to make more work for you, but if you’re still on the prowl for one more treat to add to your dessert spread or if you need a last-minute host/hostess gift or if you just plain forgot to make rum balls this year, there’s still time. Get busy. You won’t be sorry you did.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Also, just a reminder, if you’re interested in winning Food52′s Holiday Recipe and Survival Guide iPad app and haven’t yet left a comment offering your entertaining advice, do so here.

rum balls

Feeding rum balls to small children is probably not advisable. Ella, however, was never happier:
Ella, sneaking a rum ball

Rum Balls
Yield = 40

3+ cups vanilla wafers (I ended up using a whole box (12 oz))
1+ cups confectioners sugar (plus more for rolling)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons white corn syrup
2/3 cup rum

1. Place vanilla wafers in a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. There might be a few large pieces that don’t catch the blade at this step, but they’ll eventually end up getting pulverized, so don’t worry. (Alternatively, place vanilla wafers into a Ziploc bag and bash them with a rolling pin until they are fine pieces).

2. Add confectioners sugar, cocoa and corn syrup and pulse till combined. At this step, you could do one of two things:

A. Add all of the rum and pulse, which will likely leave you with a mixture that is too wet to form into balls, and which will require you to add more vanilla wafers and perhaps more confectioners sugar. This is what I did, and I ended up correcting the texture by adding all of the remaining vanilla wafers from the box as well as a 1/4 cup more confectioners sugar.

or B. Slowly add the rum to the food processor until the mixture comes together and you are able to form small little balls using a teaspoon. This is what I’ll do the next time I make them.

3. Using a teaspoon (I used a measuring spoon teaspoon), scoop out balls from the processor, roll them gently with your hands into irregular shaped balls, and drop them into a plate (or shallow tupperware) filled with a thin layer of powdered sugar. Shake the vessel to coat the balls, then transfer balls to storage container until you are ready to serve them. I store mine in the fridge — not sure this is necessary, but I like the texture the rum balls get once they are chilled a bit.

Notes: When I first began forming the balls, I used a mini scoop — it’s one that I find perfect for making truffles. It was not working so perfectly with this dough, which is a little stickier than truffle dough (batter? whatever you want to call it). If you have one of these scoops, you could try using it, but I had better luck just using a teaspoon.

rum balls

Kristina’s Molasses Crinkles

molasses crinkles

I couldn’t believe the cookies were made with shortening. I’m an all-butter kind of girl. Until a week ago in fact, the thought of shortening, a product I reserved solely for seasoning cast iron skillets, sort of repulsed me. Until a week ago, I also would have told you I could detect the difference between a cookie made with butter and one with shortening. I mean, it’s a rookie skill, right?

So I thought. My cousin Kristina makes the very best molasses cookies I have ever tasted. And they’re not just the best molasses cookies ever; they’re one of the best cookies ever. Last December when I received Kristina’s recipe in the mail and discovered that her legendary molasses crinkles were made with shortening, my earth sort of shattered. I would have bet money they had been made with butter.

But perhaps this was an opportunity, I thought. I would substitute butter for the shortening and then blog about the nearly perfect cookie I had perfected with butter. But once again, my earth shattered. The cookies I prepared with the butter-for-shortening substitution were terrible. The texture lacked the softness and chewiness of Kristina’s, and the flavor, perhaps tarnished by over baking, was just not as I had remembered. Did Kristina in fact use shortening in her cookies? I was still in disbelief.

It was time for me to try shortening. And since I was venturing into the realm of repulsive ingredients, I thought why not try something truly repulsive? This past spring, a friend in CA introduced me to a little product called buttered-flavored shortening, an ingredient she had used in a batch of phenomenal chocolate chip cookies she was so graciously sharing with me.

Butter-flavored shortening. I mean, it doesn’t get much more repulsive than this. Have any of you ever opened a can of this stuff? Have you seen its color? Have you smelled it? Have you ever tried washing it off your hands? Have you reviewed the ingredient list? It’s filled with all of the worst sorts of things — fully and partially hydrogenated oils, mono and diglycerides, to name a few. It’s a list that might appear in Michael Pollan’s worst nightmare. Butter-flavored shortening. Truly, it doesn’t get more repulsive than this.

I couldn’t help but wish my butter-flavored-shortening molasses crinkles to fail. As they baked, I kept thinking, there’s no way my adorable cousin Kristina could use such a vile product. No way. But when I pulled from the oven a pan with nine perfectly golden domed mounds crinkling up at me, I began to believe. And then, after they cooled and I took a bite, and the soft and chewy texture was just as I had remembered, and the flavor, too, was buttery and not at all artificial tasting and spiced with those wintry flavors of cinnamon and cloves, I was convinced. These were Kristina’s molasses crinkles. I had never been so happy to have such a vile product in my pantry.

I had to call Kristina to discuss. “So Kristina,” I said when she answered the phone, “your molasses cookies and I have been on a long journey together, and I’ve finally accepted that you do in fact use shortening, right?”

“Shortening?” she replied. “No, I always use butter. I don’t know what shortening is.”

I had to laugh. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What had gone wrong the first time I had attempted Kristina’s recipe? Was it just a terribly off day for me in the kitchen? And had I now gone crazy to welcome to my pantry such a product as butter-flavored shortening? What was going on? All of a sudden I heard myself trying to convince Kristina of the virtues of butter-flavored shortening. Kristina, rightly so, would hear nothing of it.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m afraid, the conclusion to this long-winded post is that my quest to create Kristina’s molasses crinkles continues. The above- and below-pictured cookies were in fact made with butter-flavored shortening and truly were delicious. That said, I know my cousin’s cookies are better, and as soon as I can, I am going to make another batch of each — Kristina gave me some tips, which I enclosed below — and do a side by side comparison.

In the meantime, I guess I’m just going to have to embrace the repulsive yet remarkable ingredient that has entered my pantry. Butter-flavored shortening is here to stay.

molasses crinkles

dough balls

sugar coated dough balls

Molasses Crinkles
Source: Cousin Kristina via Betty Crocker’s Best Cookies
Yield = about 27 cookies

3/4 cup butter-flavored shortening (See notes below for Kristina’s variation made with butter)
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (table salt as opposed to kosher)
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
granulated sugar

1. Mix shortening, sugar, egg and molasses thoroughly. (I used a stand mixer, but you probably could mix this batter by hand.) Sift (I whisked) all of the dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined. Chill. (A time wasn’t specified, but I would imagine one to three hours would suffice. I chill the dough and bake off six to nine cookies at a time — the batter will stay good for days.)

2. Heat oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (I portion my dough into 7/8-oz (28g) balls using my Salter digital scale.) Dip balls in sugar and place sugared side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each with two or three drops of water. (This is sort of awkward — I dipped a fork in a cup of water and sort of pulled water from the glass to sprinkle it on top… if that makes any sense. Kristina in fact skips the water-sprinkling step.) Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely on sheet pan before eating.

Notes: Kristina uses butter in place of the shortening. She also uses a little bit less flour but didn’t give an exact amount — so maybe do a scant 2.25 cups or a heaping 2 cups. She also bakes the cookies at 350ºF for about 8 minutes.

molasses crinkles