Quick and Easy Strawberry Rhubarb Bars

I’ll freely admit, I love strawberries and rhubarb together, and right now, t’is the season here in western Washington state. The you-pick fields are in play for the former, and the latter is fat and sassy pretty much everywhere. Seems like a good time for a quick and easy strawberry rhubarb bar.

I love the concept of dessert –  something a little rich, a little sweet – just right to finish off a meal. What I don’t love is stuff that’s too sweet or too much. Dessert should put a cap on a great meal, not bury it. I think that’s why I like small bites of something with distinct tartness, as much or more than sweet – That makes dessert more like a between course palate cleanser than anything, and I guess that’s why I love the combination of strawberries and rhubarb.

Stopping for fresh berries

Strawberries, even at their most glorious ripeness, still have that slightly sour, tangy note that makes them far more interesting than sweet alone. The problem with them is the fact that you can get them year round, which translates to the fact that they suck a lot of the time. April through June, pretty much wherever you are, is the natural peak season for them, and that’s when I get excited.

Stopping for fresh berries

I stopped by our closest provider this morning and grabbed a quart, fresh from the field, which is right beside the sales shack. In the image below, you’ve got fresh local berries to the left and production grocery store berries to the right. Obvious differences, right? The store bought berries look spectacular – big and uniform. They also happen to not taste half as good as the worst berry in that locally picked quart, so…

Fresh local berries versus big store stuff - No contest

Rhubarb is, culinarily, a bit mysterious. Where it first came from is basically unknown – It showed up as a vegetable crop in Europe and Scandinavia in the early 18th century – before that, it was grown medicinally, mostly for digestive issues. And it is a vegetable engaged in fruit-like activity, by the way – it’s kinda like the mirror image of tomatoes in that regard. As far as availability goes, there’s hot house grown and farm grown, and you want the latter, without question. Better yet, grow your own – both strawberries and rhubarb really like full sun, so you can plant a mixed bed of deliciousness that’ll look great to boot. Rhubarb pairs well with raspberries, marion berries, blackberries, and blueberries too, FYI.

Fresh rhubarb

Just as with celery, you want rhubarb stalks that are firm and maybe 1” to 1 1/2” thick, with smaller leaves, if you can find them with such. If they’re floppy, or dry and somewhat hollow in the middle, they’re no good. Rhubarb stalks can be eaten raw – They’re like celery in texture, but with a very strong, bitter-tart taste – really quite delightful in a salad. Contrary to common belief, the color doesn’t really matter – Because of variety, they may be green, red, speckled, or pink – If they’re well grown, tasty varieties, and fresh, they’ll be good to eat. We do not eat the leaves, however – they contain high concentration of oxalis acid, which will cause catastrophic liver failure in humans.

I love pie, but it doesn’t last long, and it’s not always conducive to a quick, small snack – So I really like these bars as an alternative. They’re super easy to make, and they store and transport well. This recipe will make a batch big enough for a 9” x 13” baking pan, yielding roughly 16-20 large bars. You can cut the recipe in half for a smaller run if you like.

 

Urban’s Strawberry Rhubarb Bars

2 Cups Steel Cut Rolled Oats

2 Cups fine diced Rhubarb

2 Cups fine diced Strawberries 

1 1/2 Cups Pastry Flour (All Purpose will do)

1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar

12 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1/4 Cup Agave Nectar (or good local Honey, as you prefer)

1 small fresh Lemon

1 small fresh Orange

2 teaspoons Arrowroot

1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste (good quality extract is fine)

1/2 teaspoon Salt

 

Preheat oven to 375° F and set a rack in the middle slot.

You don’t need to grease or flour the pan for these bars – There’s enough fat in the recipe to do the job just fine.

building strawberry rhubarb bars

Measure the oats, the flour, the brown sugar, and the salt and toss those all into the baking pan. Mix by hand to thoroughly incorporate.

building strawberry rhubarb bars

In a sauce pan over low heat, melt the butter.

Pour melted butter over the bar mixture.

building strawberry rhubarb bars

Mix by hand, (or with a wooden spoon if you prefer – I like to feel what’s going on), to incorporate the butter, until the batter starts to clump. If the batter feels really soft and sticky, add a couple more tablespoons of flour to firm things up.

Reserve a one cup measure of the batter, then evenly press the remaining into the base of the baking pan.

Zest lemon and orange, cut both into quarters. Squeeze and reserve one tablespoon worth of lemon and orange juices, and reserve the zest.

building strawberry rhubarb bars

In a measuring cup, combine lemon juice, orange juice, agave nectar, vanilla, and arrowroot. Stir with a fork to thoroughly incorporate – This stuff will smell absolutely incredible, by the way…

building strawberry rhubarb bars

Thoroughly rinse, trim and fine dice rhubarb and strawberries. Combine these with the lemon and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

Evenly spread half the fruit blend over the batter in the baking pan.

Evenly sprinkle about half of the lemon juice/agave/vanilla/arrowroot mixture over the fruit.

Evenly crumble the reserved cup of batter over the fruit.

Evenly spread remaining fruit and remaining juice blend over that last layer of batter.

Strawberry rhubarb bars assembled and ready to bake

Bake for 40-50 minutes until the fruit blend is bubbling nicely and exposed crumble is golden brown.

Urban’s Strawberry Rhubarb Bars

Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours before cutting bars – This will make sure they firm up nicely and cut well.

Store bars refrigerated, in an airtight container, for up to 5 days.

Strawberry Short Cake

If you’ve had strawberry shortcake while out and about, chances are good that it wasn’t, and you weren’t impressed. More often than not, what you’re served is kinda like a little sponge cake thing with some whipped cream and strawberries. If you’re lucky, the whipped cream is fresh and so are the strawberries, but luck is rare in this regard. You’re almost certain to be outa luck with the shortcake.

Lucky for us, Gen-U-Wine strawberry shortcake is easy to make; easier, in fact, than all that faux crap. I’ve been known to say that, “In the kitchen simple is always best, but not always easy”; here’s a case where it’s both.

Traditional shortcake, done right, is far more like a biscuit than a cake. This is precisely what you want, because it has the density to stand up to strawberries, juice and whipped cream without becoming a gloppy, saturated sponge. ‘Short’, in baking term FYI, means a higher ratio of fat to flour, resulting in a tender, crumbly cake. Flour variety matters as well, and pastry flour is what you want. Its relatively low protein content, (about 8% to 10%), makes it perfect for stuff that demands a light and flaky consistency, like biscuits, tart crusts, pastries, and cakes. All purpose or bread flour is right out for this recipe; they’ll make things hard and chewy.

Good strawberries mean ripe, local berries at the prime of their season. Yes, you can make strawberry shortcake at other times, but this is when it’s meant to be made, so that’s kinda what you need to do.

Good cream means real cream; local, heavy or whipping cream, not that ultra-pasteurized, mass produced crap that you see most often. My local version comes in a glass pint, and the real cream absolutely plugs the top of the bottle – That’s cream.

Here’s how ya do it.

For the cake.
2 cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1 Cup Whole Cream (1/2 & 1/2 or Buttermilk are also fine)
1/2 Cup Honey or Agave Nectar
4 teaspoons Baking Powder
4 tablespoons unsalted Butter
Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Butter needs to be cold for this recipe; quickly cut it into 1/4″ cubes, then place in freezer until you need it.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, a pinch of sea salt, and baking powder; blend thoroughly.

Add the butter and work it Into the flour blend by hand, until the butter is uniformly the size of small peas

Add the cream slowly to the mix, mixing constantly.

Add the honey or agave and blend thoroughly.
The dough should be sticky; you can add a little more cream or flour at this point if you need to adjust.

Grab some dough and form a cake about hockey puck size, 3/4″ thick and roughly 4″ in diameter. Place the cakes on an ungreased baking sheet with a couple of inches between each one.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.
Don’t wander too far from the oven, they darken up pretty quickly.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

For the Berries.
4 Cups Strawberries
1/2 Cup Honey or Agave Nectar

Rinse, top and cut berries into quarters.
In a mixing bowl, combine berries and sweetener and blend thoroughly.
Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Whipped Cream
1 Pint real Cream
1 Tablespoon Honey or Agave Nectar
2″ Vanilla Bean, scraped, or 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Combine cream, sweetener and vanilla in a non-reactive mixing bowl.
Whip cream by hand or with a stick blender.
When the cream is holding stiff peaks, stop whisking, cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve, slice one biscuit in half. Place a half biscuit on a desert plate, add berries to cover evenly, then a soup spoon of cream. Repeat the layering with the other biscuit half, berries, and cream.
A mint leaf is a nice garnish, and the scent blends beautifully with the other ingredients.