Growing up I spent many long summer days at my grandparents’ house, lounging by the pool, swimming and splashing around, playing in the gardens, and enjoying the outdoors. We played wiffle ball at every family barbeque, and my brother always had to sneak into the neighbor’s backyard to retrieve the ball he’d hit over the wall every couple of times he was up at bat. We had my grandma’s famous potato salad, burgers, hot dogs, sausages and steaks on the grill, veggies when necessary, and plenty of vodka tonic’s (it was pretty great when I finally turned 21). When we were feeling particularly silly (during my pre-vodka tonic days), we’d pick stalks of rhubarb from the plant behind the pool, toss them into the water, and bob for them like applies at Halloween. Looking back, it was pretty stupid to let FOOD float in CHLORINE, and then to eat it (?!) when we were done, but I’m still here to tell you about it so evidently no permanent damage was done.
I developed a particular affinity for rhubarb as a child, and have always incorporated it into my baked goods as I’ve grown up and grown into my baking persona. I rarely ever eat it raw anymore – it is so tart it makes my lips pucker – but I love the way it morphs into something amazing in baked goods, sauces, and spreads. It’s transformation from a rather unappetizing and too-tart fruit into this delicate, tender and much more palatable ingredient that can be used in so many ways. Its vibrant red color and fruity tart-sweet flavor really make it shine in my eyes. I think it’s one of those ingredients you either love or hate, but for me it’s been love all along.
This year I still haven’t been able to get my hands on any rhubarb from my Grandpa’s garden, but I did manage to pick some up at the store and have some fun with it! I think about rhubarb only in context with strawberries – I rarely bake with it alone – because aside from the marriage of chocolate and peanut butter, there is no flavor combination I adore more than strawberry and rhubarb. I made this crumb cake for dessert one night, and it was really spectacular fresh out of the oven – the filling was mildly sweet, fruity and flavorful, the cake was super tender, and the crumbles on top were so delicate and buttery. The cake to filling to crumb ratio was spot on too. When the next morning rolled around, and I had plans to make cupcakes all day long, we decided the only option was to have crumb cake for breakfast too! And what a lovely surprise… this cake takes the place of your average coffee cake any day. In my mind it’s actually much better suited as a breakfast pastry, served with a big mug of steaming coffee. We happened to have my extended family over that afternoon, the the cake had been completely devoured by the time they were gone. it’s a good thing, because I might’ve finished it all by myself!
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Bars
For the Streusel
For the Bars
Whipped Cream Topping (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a 9″ square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2″ overhang on two sides (use a swipe of butter on edges of pan to help keep parchment flush with pan. Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour.
2) For the streusel: Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt. Add flour and mix together using a fork or your fingers to create large crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.
3) For the cake: In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, brown sugar, and 1/3 c (50g) of flour. Sift or whisk together remaining flour, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.
4) In a mixer, beat butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add eggs and vanilla extract. Stir in flour mix until just incorporated.
Spread batter in prepared pan, top with rhubarb/strawberry mix then top with streusel topping.
5) Bake 50-55 minutes or until golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan, then remove from pan using the overhanging parchment tabs.
While bars bake, whisk together whipped cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla extract to firm peaks. Set aside in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Slice bars to preferred size, dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve or top with whipped cream and serve.