“Oh rhubarb!” is one of TD’s favorite four-letter-word replacement idioms. Though, in order for it to have full effect (at least according to TD), it must be exclaimed using a high Ms. Doubtfire falsetto as such: “oooooooh rhuuuubaaaaaarb.”
I haven’t worked with rhubarb very much and even more rarely have I seen it divorced from its almost constant mate, the strawberry. So, this recipe for rhubarb bars in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook piqued my interest.
Fair warning–this recipe isn’t a whip together on a weeknight sort of endeavor. Remember those SNL skits where “Martha Stewart” knitted her own dental floss after whittling a toothbrush (quite often topless)? This recipe is sort of like that. In fact, about halfway through the process I found myself thinking, ‘what the rhubarb?’
But, if you have some time and are in the right frame of mind, this is a fun recipe.
There are four distinct components to this concoction, beginning with curing the rhubarb. Here, it is cured in grenadine for at least eight hours.
While the rhubarb cures, the base for the bar, a pate sucree, is pulled together.
Keller recommends using the frasier technique of combining the dough. This was my first time trying it out, so I hope the experts forgive my simplified explanation. To fraiser is to combined the ingredients for a dough by smearing them with the palm of your hand. The dough is then folded and the method repeated until the dough is smooth. The idea is that the process, much like making a laminated dough, creates a texture that allows the butter to steam while cooking creating a flakey result.
The dough did turn out nicely and whether it was because of the frasier method or any number of other factors, there was something very satisfying about smearing the dough around with the heel of my hand. This recipe makes enough for dough rounds of pate sucre. You will only need one for the bars.
Once the dough is chilled, it is rolled-out into a quarter-sheet (or 9X13) pan. So that the pastry does not puff-up, it is blind-baked. Keller recommends using rice. I prefer beans.
The result is a nice, even base for the bars.
About the time you pop the uncooked dough in the fridge to chill, its also time to make the brown butter filling. This twist on the almond-based frangipone calls for brown butter, which is kind of fun. And time consuming. I’ll let you in on a little secret–I actually made the dough (up to chilling it in the fridge), cured rhubarb and brown butter filling the day before assembling everything to bake.
So, once you have all your components, all that’s left is the building and baking.
The filling recipe was spot-on in terms of rhubarb to almond cream ratio.
The the bars bake until golden brown. In my opinion, this would be lovely as-is with a hearty dusting of confectioner’s sugar. Ever the superlative chef, Keller takes it a step further an adds an almond streusel. I’ve included the recipe below however, next time I make these bars, I’m not going to bother with the fancy accessory.
These would be lovely for a shower (baby or wedding), a tea or any other rites of spring celebrated during rhubarb season.
I was all over the place during the three days it took to complete these bars. Highlights include Indigo Girls, Wilco, Jimmy Buffet and the Eagles.
adapted from Rhubarb Tart, by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel in Bouchon Bakery
note–this is actually four (five if you count browning the butter) recipes assembled into one. I’ve organized them separately and then provided instructions on how to put everything together at the end.
- 15 young rhubarb stalks (about 2 lbs)
- 1/2 C (100 grams) superfine granulated sugar
- 1/4 C + 2 TBS (120 grams) grenadine (you can find grenadine in with the mixers in the adult beverages section of the market)
- Trim the rhubarb so that it will fit into a 9X13 inch baking dish lengthwise.
- Using a paring knife, pull-off the strings and any tough peel running the length of the rhubarb.
- Arrange the rhubarb in the baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar and drizzle with grenadine.
- Cover in plastic wrap and let cure for 24 hours, turning the stalks every 8 hours or so.
- When ready to use, allow to drain on paper towels first.
note: this makes enough for two tart shells, you will only need one. Wrap the second tightly in plastic and freeze for up to two months.
- 2 2/3 C (375 grams) all purpose flour
- 1/4 C + 3 TBS (46 grams) confectioner’s sugar PLUS
- 3/4 C + 1 TBS (94 grams) confectioner’s sugar
- 1/4 C plus 3 TBS almond meal/flour
- 8 oz (225 grams) unsalted butter at room temp.
- 1/2 vanilla bean split down the middle
- 1 extra large egg (56 grams)
- In a medium bowl sift in the flour plus the first 46 grams of confectioner’s sugar. Sift-in the almond flour, breaking up any lumps in the sieve. Whisk to combine and set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a hand mixer), add butter and cream on medium until it has the consistency of mayonnaise. Sift in the remaining confectioner’s sugar and mix on medium low until the mixture if fluffy (about 60 seconds).
- Scrape down the sides of the bowl and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture. Mix on low for 30 seconds to distribute evenly.
- Add dry ingredients in two additions, mixing for 15-30 seconds after each and until just combined. Scrape down the bowl to incorporate any ingredients that have settled on the bottom of the bowl.
- Add the eggs and mix on low for 15-30 seconds.
- Transfer the dough to a work surface. Using the heel of your hand, smear the dough and work it together. Divide the dough in half and form each into a 4X6 inch rectangle about 3/4 inches thick.
- Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill until firm (about 2 hours but as always, preferably overnight).
Brown Butter Filling
- 1/2 C + 3 TBS (75 grams) almond flour/meal
- 1/2 C + 2 tsp all purpose flour
- 2 eggs (150 grams)
- 1 C + 1 TBS (210 grams) superfine granulated sugar
- 1/4 C + 1 TBS (75 grams) whole milk
- 1/4 C + 1 TBS (75 grams) heavy cream
- 3/4 C + 1 TBS (165 grams) brown butter (recipe here)
- Whisk together the almond and all-purpose flours, set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine the eggs and sugar and mix on medium for about 2 minutes.
- Reduce mixer to low, slowly add the milk and cream.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix on low for a few seconds until combined.
- With the mixer running, slowly add the brown butter and mix to combine.
- Transfer to a pastry bag.
Almond Streusel Topping
- 3/4 C + 2 TBS (120 grams) all purpose flour
- 1 C + 1 TBS (120 grams) almond flour
- 1/2 C + 2 TBS (120 grams) granualted sugar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 4.2 ounces (120 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- Combine the all-purpose and almond flours, sugar and salt in a bowl. Whisk to break-up lumps.
- Add the butter and toss to coat the pieces. Work the mixture with fingertips breaking the butter into pieces no larger than 1/8 inch and combining it with the flour mixture.
- Transfer the streusel to a covered container or resealable plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least two hours (can be frozen up to 1 month).
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees
- Spread the streusel in an even layer on a sheet pan.
- Bake for about 12 minutes, turning the streusel with a metal spatula every 4 minutes until it is golden brown and dry.
- Place pan on cooling rock, allow to cool completely.
- Pour the streusel into a food processor and pulse to the consistency of brown sugar.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Pipe enough of the filling into the crust to cover the bottom with a 1/4 inch-thick-layer and spread it evenly with a small offset spatula.
- Arrange the rhubarb, rounded side-up on top of the filling, running lengthwise in the pan.
- Pipe the fillings around the stalks, filing in any gaps, then spread any remaining filling over the top of the rhubarb (it may not be completely covered).
- Bake for 40 minutes, rotate the pan.
- Reduce the oven temp to 325 degrees and bake for an other 10-15 minutes until the filling is set and golden.
- Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.
- Cut 12 bars or 24 squares and garnish with streusel topping.