I had other plans for what I was going to post this week. Actually I had many other plans of dishes and techniques to post. However the other night I made the rhubarb crumb bars from Catherine Newman's blog and for many reasons I had to share this recipe first. I made them while Lewis was putting the boys to bed and after they came out of the oven we stayed up late eating them. We only stopped because we really needed to go to bed. The next day I shared them with friends who all wanted the recipe. So I thought I would share the recipe with my changes here while rhubarb is still in season.
Three years ago we were deciding (and by deciding I mean arguing) about whether or not to buy our current house. Lewis spent all his time pointing out the reasons we shouldn't move, and so I spent all my time pointing out why we should. For me one of the features of the house was it came with rhubarb in the yard. If I had this recipe already Lewis would have agreed to buy the house much sooner! Rhubarb is my type of gardening. It comes up in the spring without my doing anything, which matches up perfectly with my gardening abilities. Plus it is useful in the kitchen, I don't really care all that much about growing things just because they look pretty.
I am not sure what it was about the recipe for these bars that sent me to the kitchen. Whatever it was I am glad I did. I know it wasn't her description of them as "achingly sweet and jaw-crampingly tart." I am not one of those people who craves lots of sugar. After all I don't even like soda. Now butter, oil, fat and cheese are another story. So I chose to lower the sugar and sub in some maple syrup. I wanted the flavor of the rhubarb to come through without masking it with too much sugar. They are still sweet enough to tone down the rhubarb just not "achingly" so.
I also used some whole wheat pastry flour in place of half of the white flour. If you follow this blog that shouldn't surprise you. The extra flavor that it gave to the crust really helped to highlight and bring out the rhubarbs flavor. The only two no votes I have received on them is from my boys. Their friends Silas and Rosalie both loved them, so disliking them is not a kid thing. Oh well, more for Lewis and I.
Before I present the recipe we need to take a moment to talk about a new ingredient I have been playing with. On my last visit to King Arthur Flour I bought a bottle of chocolate extract. Since then I have been adding it to many sweet dishes. I added it to sour milk butternut squash waffles twice this past week and everyone said they were the best. So I added it to the rhubarb bars and we love the end result. I am not sure what it adds, I am sure it is fine without it. I just included it in the recipe for any of you who want to play with a new ingredient. In a dish like this that is not chocolate based it does not make it taste like chocolate, it just adds to the depth of flavor.
Rhubarb Crumb Bars
1 slightly heaping cup rolled oats
1 slightly heaping cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 slightly heaping cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar (I used raw sugar, the original calls for brown sugar, I was out)
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup butter (2 sticks, if using salted only use 1/2 tsp kosher salt) sliced into small pieces or chunks
6 cups rhubarb sliced if from a thin stalk, chopped if from a large stalk (original recipe says about 2 pounds before cleaning and trimming, for me it was 3 huge 2 inch thick stalks and 2 small stalks)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used grade B)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract (optional, but just so you know this is my not so secret new secret ingredient).
Heat the oven to 400° and heavily grease a baking dish that is 13 x 9 x 2 (or close to those dimensions) with butter. Combine the flours, oats, 1 cup of sugar and salt. Add the pieces of butter and toss everything to coat the butter with flour. Use a pastry blender or your hands to mix the butter into the dry ingredients. If using your hands just rub the butter into the dry ingredients. You want it to be in pea sized pieces.
Reserve a heaping cup of crumbs and then pour the remainder into the prepared baking dish. Press the crumbs into place to form a bottom crust. Spread the sliced/chopped rhubarb evenly over the crust. In a small saucepan combine the white sugar, maple syrup and corn starch. Stir in the water and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens slightly, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the extracts, or extract. Pour the syrup evenly over the rhubarb in the baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over the top and bake for ten minutes. After ten minutes turn the heat down to 325° and bake for another hour. Serve warm or at room temperature. I am sure it would be wonderful served with vanilla or maple ice cream, whipped cream or Bird's Custard. We have been eating it plain, I am a little afraid of making it taste better.