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Rhubarb is one of my favorite fleeting vegetables of spring—in season in New York from roughly the end of May to mid- (or sometimes late-) June, it briefly crosses over with strawberry season, inspiring countless james, pies, and cobblers (my post last year for a strawberry-rhubarb pie). Well, it’s not quite strawberry season yet but the rhubarb was out yesterday in all its pink-red-and-green glory. What’s a girl to make?

It seemed each person I passed as I approached the farmer’s market was toting a bagful of just-picked rhubarb. (I should’ve asked what they were planning to make!) I was cruising Smitten Kitchen blog for ideas and came across a recipe for a rhubarb “snacking” cake: a layer of cake batter under a layer of rhubarb under a layer of crumb. Moist and not too sweet. And no strawberries required.

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Rhubarb Crumb Cake

I tweaked Deb’s recipe by reducing the sugar; substituting greek yogurt for sour cream; and reducing the flour in the crumb. And I had leftovers of the rhubarb mixture so I sautéed for five to ten minutes and plan to use it on top of plain yogurt or vanilla ice cream.
Note: I found the cake needed the full sixty minutes for the crumb on top to brown.

Cake
1 1/4 lb rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 c sugar, divided in 2
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/3 c plain greek yogurt

Crumb
3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c light brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, just melted

To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Coat the bottom of a 9 x 13″ baking pan with butter. (Optional: you can line the pan with parchment paper.) Stir together the rhubarb, lemon juice, and 1/2 c sugar and set aside. Beat the butter, remaining sugar, and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and ginger together. Add half of this mixture to the batter, just until combined. Continue, adding half the yogurt, the second half of the flour mixture, and the remaining yogurt, mixing between each addition until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly over the prepared pan. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the batter in a single layer.

To make the crumb: Whisk the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon together, then stir in the melted butter until crumb-size pieces form. Spread evenly over the rhubarb layer. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes and the crumb is golden on top. Cool completely.

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This post is a shout out to everyone who is sick to death of holiday over-indulgence: fruit cake, panettone (yes, panettone), christmas cookies, kugel, stollen, chocolate truffles, sugar cookies, egg nog, and on and on. In early December all that powdered sugar and almond paste is so exciting and new! Like turkey on Thanksgiving Thursday; then by the fifth turkey-and-cranberry sandwich on Sunday you’re: so. over. it.

So now that we’re nestling into mid-January I propose a return to normalcy. Nothing so dramatic as a cleanse or diet. But I’m talking about rosemary shortbread. You may be scratching your head saying huh? I thought you were sick of cookies?! Well I am. But sometimes if you have people over or are asked to bring a dessert there’s no getting around it. So what I’m proposing are these salty-mildly sweet buttery cookies. Serve these after the main course has digested and your guests will perk up instantly and feel not that they’re over-indulging circa Dec. 31st, but, that they’re being responsible grown-ups enjoying a delicious (and addictive I might add), but not absurd, dessert.

Plus these can be made from start to finish in about 40 minutes and use mostly ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. They stay good for at least a week sealed in an air-tight container. Leftovers go well at the office around 11 am with that second cup of tea or coffee when your stomach doesn’t realize that lunchtime is still two hours away.

So congratulations on doing more yoga, quitting smoking, getting the blood pressure down, and eating better desserts in 2012.

Special thanks to my stepmother Bonnie for this just-in-time recipe.

Rosemary Shortbread

2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, plus a little extra for sprinkling and photo shoots
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temp.
2 tbsp honey
1/2 c powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. In a separate, large bowl, mix together the butter, honey, and sugar. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring to combine.

Shape the dough into a ball, gently kneading it.

Press the dough into two 9-inch cake pans, square or round. (Use square if you want square or rectangular cookies, round for round ones.) The dough will be quite thin but will rise a little in the oven. Lightly score the dough with a knife to the size/shape cookies you desire before placing in the oven.

Before baking, sprinkle rosemary and a little sea salt on top, then bake for approx. 20 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut the cookies where you had scored them.

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