Roasted Rhubarb {FFwD}

OK, so I’ve been AWOL from French Fridays with Dorie for a while now. I took most of April and all of May off, and I thought it might be time to get back in the game. And this recipe seemed like a good place to start.

To say I’m not a fan of rhubarb would be an understatement. I’ve often wondered how hungry someone had to be to first eat rhubarb. And having been poisoned by the leaves, what possessed them to try again? But to my great surprise, I recently found a rhubarb recipe that I liked — my late mother-in-law’s rhubarb pie.

Flush with my success with baking — and enjoying — rhubarb, I thought I would try my hand at Dorie’s recipe for roasted rhubarb. This recipe is quick and easy. I began by slicing fresh rhubarb.

I put the rhubarb in a baking dish, sprinkled it with sugar and orange zest, and tossed it all together.

I covered the pan and roasted the rhubarb until it was tender and the sugar had dissolved into a syrup. I served the rhubarb warm with whipped cream for a weeknight dessert.

The verdict? Well, let’s put it this way: other than Mom Hartzler’s pie, I’m still not a rhubarb fan. Despite all the sugar, the rhubarb was quite sour. And I’m not sure additional sugar would have helped. There just wasn’t enough flavor in this recipe to make up for the underlying bitterness of the rhubarb. My wife, who loves rhubarb pie, didn’t care for it either.

It’s good to be back on the FFwD wagon. And even though this recipe wasn’t a big hit here, we have loved most of what I’ve made from Dorie’s book. And I’m looking forward to making more.

Mom Hartzler’s Rhubarb Pie {Recipe}

Shortly after J and I were married, I received a card from her parents. I forget the occasion — a birthday, Father’s Day, some other holiday — but I remember the card. It said, “To a Special Son”. After the word “Son”, her mom had written “in-Law”. J and I laughed about it and decided she had probably bought a bunch of cards ahead of time and was just making do with what she had.

We saw them a few weeks later, and when I thanked her for the card, she told me that she bought that one because none of the son-in-law cards said what she felt as well as the son cards. “Besides”, she said, “we think of you more as a son than a son-in-law”. As the years went by, Mom was never neglectful when it came to marking special occasions. And over time she stopped looking for son-in-law cards and just started sending me cards addressing me as their son.

That’s how she felt about me; and how I felt about her, too. I always called her, “Mom”. I felt as welcome in her home as in my own. And even on my worst days, I always felt her love and unconditional acceptance.

We lost Mom about a year ago, and I still miss her every day. Since she died, family gatherings have fallen to me to plan and host. And regardless of the holiday, someone always asks me to make one of Mom’s recipes. I’ve nearly perfected her baked corn and deviled eggs (both from the Mennonite Community Cookbook). And recently, I tried my hand at her rhubarb pie for the first time.

I’m not sure where the recipe originated. Dad Hartzler e-mailed it to me after he brought us rhubarb from his garden. It’s one of the only recipes I’ve seen that uses both a custard-type filling and a crumb topping. I made this pie for J the other night, as it’s her favorite. I’ve never been a rhubarb fan myself (I’ve been heard to say that rhubarb pie is proof that if you add enough sugar to something, people will eat it), but I have to admit, this pie is delicious.

Mom Hartzler’s Rhubarb Pie

Ingredients

One 9-inch pie crust

Filling:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups rhubarb, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

Topping:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in center of oven.
  2. Whisk egg, sugar, flour, and vanilla in large bowl until well mixed. Add rhubarb and toss with rubber spatula.
  3. Combine topping ingredients in small bowl and blend with fork.
  4. Scrape rhubarb mixture into shell and spread evenly with rubber spatula. Use your fingers to crumble topping over filling.
  5. Bake at 400°F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and continue baking for 40 minutes or until crumb topping is golden and filling is set.

As I baked this pie the other day, I couldn’t help but think of Mom. Not only because it was her recipe and the rhubarb came from her garden, but because of my recent forray into pie and tart baking. For years, I could cook and bake about anything, but I struggled with pie crusts. Most of my attempts ended in failure, and whenever Mom was around, she would just laugh about it and then set out to make my crust for me.

So it was ironic and somewhat bittersweet when the crust for her rhubarb pie recipe came out picture perfect.

The crumb topping looked just like I remember hers looking.

And the pie itself baked up beautifully. Just like Mom’s, if I do say so myself.

And the flavor was as I remember, too. Sweet, with just the right hint of tartness from the rhubarb. I must be a closet rhubarb fan after all, as I ate half the pie last night.

To me, baking is one of the ways I feel tied to my past. When I think of family members, especially those who have passed on, I often remember their signature dishes — the ones they always brought to family gatherings, and the ones we all looked forward to. So it’s nice to have a number of Mom’s recipes. They make me feel close to her, even though she’s no longer here.

Hungarian Shortbread {TWD-BWJ}

This week’s recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie — Baking with Julia was a new twist on an old favorite for me. I’m a big fan of shortbread cookies and love to try different versions of them (Nick Malgieri’s macadamia shortbreads were especially delicious), but I had never heard of Hungarian shortbread before making this recipe.

What sets Hungarian shortbread apart from other shortbreads is that it is layered and filled with a tart fruit filling, rhubarb jam in the case of Dorie’s recipe. The other thing that is unique about this recipe is the way the shortbread is formed. After mixing the dough, you divide it in half and shape each half into a ball, freeze the dough balls for half an hour, then grate the dough into the pan using a box grater. The filling is spread between two layers of dough, and the whole thing is baked. Finally, the shortbread is dusted with powdered sugar as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Here are my observations on this recipe:

  • I don’t really understand the purpose of freezing and grating the dough.  The recipe says that it makes the dough easier to work with, but I didn’t really find that to be true. First, I had a heck of a time shaping the dough into balls and wrapping it. Then, when I tried to grate it, it got so crumbly that I gave up on the box grater and  just crumbled it into the pan by hand. I think it would have been just as easy to press the dough into the pan from the beginning, and that’s what I’ll do next time.

  •  I’m generally not a fan of rhubarb, and it’s not really in season here yet, so I decided to use my homemade four-citrus marmalade for the filling. The tart bite of the marmalade offset the sweetness of the shortbread and brought the whole thing together.

  • The shortbread baked up beautifully. Some of the other TWD bakers reported that their shortbread came out underdone, but mine was perfect.

  • I dusted the top of the shortbread with powdered sugar as soon as it came out of the oven, as the recipe instructed. However, since it was hot, the sugar melted and got kind of funky. Next time, I’ll let it cool first, then dust on the sugar.

  • And now, a word about purple. When I first looked at the picture of the finished shortbread in the book, I thought it was beautiful. I especially liked the contrasting colors — the golden shortbread punctuated by the red filling and bluish-purple topping. I quickly turned to the recipe to see what made the bluish color on top of the shortbread, but the recipe just said to dust it with powdered sugar. Nothing blue; nothing purple — just powdered sugar. I flipped back to the picture, looked at it more closely, and realized the blue tint was just a reflection from the background. Undaunted, I decided mine would be purple.
  • I tried coloring the powdered sugar with food coloring, but it didn’t mix in. Then I stirred in purple finishing sugar that I use for King Cake. It mixed in fine, but when I dusted the top of the shortbread, the colored sugar didn’t make it through the sifter. I finally ended up just sprinkling the sugar on top of the shortbread. It didn’t give quite the same effect as the photo in the book, but I still liked the look of it.

The final verdict: we really liked this recipe, and I’ll definitely be making it again. I might change up the filling, but I’ll keep it tart. And I won’t bother with trying to grate the dough; I’ll just press it into the pan. And, yes, I’ll use purple sprinkles again.