Oh, rhubarb. While a stalk of asparagus or bunch of ramps may inspire foodies to rhapsodize about the promise and bounty of spring, it's rhubarb that so neatly captures the caprice and delicacy of the new season. Treat the green and fuchsia stalks right and they'll reward you with bright, sweet-tart benevolence. Do them wrong and risk the slings and arrows of sour mush. The line between edible and execrable is a precarious and fine one, and should be approached with caution.
Find an eminently edible recipe after the jump.
One of the greatest attributes of rhubarb is its ability to shape-shift: it works equally well in a cobbler, crisp, pie, tart, sorbet, ice cream, jam or cake. Regardless of form, however, most rhubarb desserts have one thing in common: they give sugar, not rhubarb, top billing. If you've got a big sweet tooth, that's fine, but if you want something with more dimension and tartness, consider cutting the sugar by a third and adding lemon or orange zest and spices like cinnamon, cardamom or ginger. But resist the urge to substitute all of the sugar with a natural sweetener like honey, unless you crave rhubarb soup.
Shortcake offers a relatively unusual vehicle for rhubarb. True, real shortcake -- such as the strawberry kind -- uses uncooked fruit, smothered luxuriously with whipped cream. But apologies to shortcake purists aside, rhubarb shortcake offers all of the biscuit pleasure of cobbler with the added benefit of relative portability. And while the lemon ricotta cream may also offend traditionalists, it won't offend taste buds: the bright, creamy texture makes for a mellow foil to the tart vegetable (that's right, vegetable), and is a perfect trap for all of those errant biscuit crumbs.
Rhubarb Shortcakes with Lemon Ricotta Cream
For the shortcakes (adapted from "Baking Illustrated"):
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting the work surface and biscuit cutter
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
3 tablespoons sugar, plus additional for sprinkling if desired
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon half-and-half
2 1/2-inch circular biscuit cutter
For the compote:
Approximately 2 pounds rhubarb (about 6 cups), peeled and chopped into 3/4-inch segments
1/4 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the ricotta cream:
1/2 pound ricotta (approximately 1 heaping cup)
3 tablespoons half-and-half
Zest of 1 lemon
First, make the shortcakes:
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 425 degrees F. In a food processor, pulse the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt to combine. Scatter the butter across the mixture's surface and pulse until the mixture is coarse and crumbly; the pieces of butter should be pea-sized or smaller. Transfer mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl.
In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the half-and-half with one egg. Pour over the flour mixture and gently stir together with a spatula, being careful not to overmix: the mixture will be clumpy, and that's OK. Turn the mixture onto a floured surface, and very gently knead the dough, shaping it into a 3/4-inch-thick, 6 by 9-inch rectangle.
Cut out the biscuits and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form the leftover dough scraps into another rectangle and cut out as many biscuits as possible; this recipe yields approximately 11. Whisk the second egg and brush over the biscuit tops; if desired, sprinkle with the additional sugar. Place the biscuits in the oven and bake until the tops are golden brown, 12 to 16 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool before splitting in half.
Next, make the compote:
Place the prepared rhubarb in a heavy wide-bottomed pot or saucepan. Add the water and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Stir occasionally until the rhubarb begins to release its liquid and soften, and then add the sugar and spices. Turn the heat down to low and, stirring occasionally, cook until the rhubarb has softened, approximately 20 minutes. If the compote is too tart for your liking, add sugar to taste. Let cool. If you have leftover compote, it can be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for up to a week.
Then, make the ricotta cream:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the ricotta with the half-and-half and lemon zest. Stir with a spoon or spatula until the mixture is creamy. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Finally, build the shortcakes:
Split each biscuit in half. Add about 1/3 cup of compote to the bottom half, top with a couple spoonfuls of ricotta cream, plop down the top half, and grab a fork. Yield: Approximately 11 shortcakes.
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