Spring means rhubarb time

Where is the sunshine and warmer weather? The song birds and cranes got the memo to return, but maybe Mother Nature didn’t copy the sunshine in her annual email. My taste buds are so ready to enjoy fresh rhubarb, and sunshine and warm temperatures would be a wonderful accompaniment, almost as good as vanilla ice cream. I want to bake pie and make our favorite rhubarb and strawberry pan dessert.

There are many tried and true rhubarb recipes in my collection, but I am always on the lookout for a new one. Last year I taught a cooking class and we made a chicken tagine with poached rhubarb recipe. Rather than using rhubarb for baked goodies, it was swapped out and poached with sugar and vanilla beans to enhance a Moroccan inspired chicken dish. Once poached, the rhubarb has many uses, both sweet and savory.

Who doesn’t love pineapple upside-down cake, so how about a cake with rhubarb to shake things up a bit?

RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

2- sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, more to grease pans

1 ½ pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes about 4 cups

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup granulated sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

2 cups cake flour – if you don’t have cake flour, use all-purpose flour

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

Zest of 1 lemon, grated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1/3 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Preparation

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sides of the pan. Wrap two layers of foil under the pan and place it on a buttered baking sheet. Alternately, use a 10-inch cast iron skillet; it works quite well.

In a medium bowl, mix rhubarb, cornstarch and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

Mix the brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Whip 1 1/2 sticks butter in a mixer with a paddle attachment for 2 minutes. With your fingers, blend the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with lemon zest until the mixture is uniform in color. Cream together with the butter at medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl halfway through.

Add the vanilla and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, then the lemon juice. (It’s OK if the mixture looks curdled.)

With the mixer set to low speed, add the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until well combined. Scrape down the mixer bowl in between the additions.

Pour the brown-sugar mixture into the cake pan, then spoon in the rhubarb and its juices. Spoon in the batter so it covers all of the rhubarb. Smooth out the top.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top of the cake is firm to touch and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out without any large, moist crumbs.

Place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 30 minutes. Wait the half hour as the cake needs time to set-up. Run a knife around the cake, place a plate on top of the pan and turn it upside-down. Release the cake from the pan while still warm or else it will stick. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

When I think of all the yummy recipes my mom makes, this is definitely at the top of the list. She is a champion pie crust maker and her rhubarb custard pie just the best. Making a humble rhubarb pie is a ritual of springtime in my kitchen. Spring means rhubarb and asparagus where I come from in Wisconsin.

I stopped by a friend’s last week to drop off a baking dish she made us, a mixed berry cobbler in that was excellent. She invited me in for coffee and rhubarb custard pie. She too, is a champion pie crust master, as her pie was excellent like mom’s. She lives closer to town and is already harvesting rhubarb. I am checking the progress of mine weekly, and it is up and growing, but just barely. That piece of pie we shared on a cold and windy spring day was one of the best I have ever had. Thank you, Karen.

RHUBARB CUSTARD PIE

Dough for a 9-inch double-crust pie

2 large eggs

1 ¼ cups sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

4 cups fresh rhubarb (about 1 pound), cut into 3/4-inch pieces

1 tablespoon cold butter

A little milk and white sugar

Preparation

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Divide dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Roll out larger piece into an 11-inch disk and place it in a 9-inch pie plate. On a sheet of wax paper, roll out smaller piece into a 9 1/2-inch disk. Place lined pie plate and disk in refrigerator while making filling.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, flour and salt, and mix to blend. Stir in rhubarb. Place filling in pie shell. Cut butter into thin chips and dot them over filling.

Roll out remaining pastry, cut into strips three-quarters of an inch wide and weave a lattice to cover the pie. You can simply lay the strips on top in crisscross fashion if weaving is not one of your skills. Seal, trim and crimp the edges. Brush the lattice with milk and sprinkle with a bit of sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees then reduce heat to 350 degrees, and continue baking until crust is golden brown, about 30 minutes more. Cover edges with foil or a pastry shield if needed to prevent burning. Cool pie on a wire rack before slicing.

Hurry back to Homer, springtime. I promise we will welcome you in grand style.

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