Rhubarb is such a strange beauty and totally magical, too.
It’s the ultimate harbinger of spring and definitely an old-fashioned beauty–classic and maybe a little unexpected. Despite how many times I bake and eat rhubarb, it always makes me swoon. It’s celery-like stalks and vegetal looks belie an unexpected tartness. When baked until bubbly, the aroma is undeniably fruity–almost like tart berries–while the juices run a luscious hot pink.
When I bake with rhubarb it’s all about tart, juicy, fruitiness. I like to keep it simple and relatively unadorned–I don’t want the flavor to be masked or hidden. I love it paired with simple pastry or crumble. Pie is always a delicious option and it pairs beautifully with creamy custards as well, but possibly one of the simplest and most satisfying preparations would have to be a crumble. Browned butter is mixed with flour, oats, sugar, and a bit of salt, which takes a rest in the refrigerator while rhubarb is chopped, tossed with sugar, vanilla bean, and cornstarch into a baking dish. Finally, the rhubarb is topped with the chunky crumble topping and baked until brown and bubbly. This dessert is perfect served with a dollop of something cool and creamy–vanilla ice cream is always the best choice, but whipped cream or creme fraiche are lovely as well.
Brown Butter Rhubarb Crumble
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Rhubarb leaves are toxic, but are easily and safely removed by simply cutting off and discarding. I coarsely ground the oats in my mini-processor. You can leave them whole if you’d like. You can also sub 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract for the bean. I also like to err on the tart side, so up the sugar if you like a sweeter filling.
for the crumble:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
6 Tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 stick (4ounces) unsalted butter, browned
for the rhubarb filling:
2 pounds rhubarb, ends and toxic leaves removed
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, seeded
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon chilled, unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes
Heat oven to 375*F.
To brown the butter, melt in a skillet over medium-low until solids are browned and fragrant like nutty toffee. Remove from heat and set aside while you gather the remaining crumble ingredients. In a large bowl stir together flour, oats, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Stir in the slightly cooled brown butter and set in the refrigerator or freezer while you prepare the filling.
Cut rhubarb into about 1-inch pieces–I like mine on a fairly sharp bias. In a large bowl rub vanilla seeds into sugar until combined and fragrant. Stir in salt and cornstarch, finally toss the rhubarb into the sugar mixture to coat well and scrape the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate or other desired baking dish. Sprinkle with cold, cubed butter, and top with chilled crumble mixture and bake for 45-60 minutes until top is golden browned and juices are bubbling. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature, with ice cream if desired.