Food & Drink

Tart rhubarb shines on shortcakes

The New York Times

Rhubarb is sweetened, roasted and piled onto oat shortcakes in this seasonal dessert.
Rhubarb is sweetened, roasted and piled onto oat shortcakes in this seasonal dessert. The New York Times

Strawberries may be the default shortcake topping, but they are not the only way to enjoy the combination of buttery biscuits, plump fruit and luscious whipped cream.

Consider, for example, rhubarb.

In season at the same time, strawberries and rhubarb are often paired to fill the bellies of pies. But rhubarb is excellent on its own, when its deep, fruity sourness can shine without any intrusions.

And, when it’s roasted until soft and piled onto shortcakes, rhubarb is just as appealing as its more iconic counterpart, albeit in a very different way.

Where strawberries are raw and juicy, rhubarb is cooked and saucy. This is because when it comes to strawberries, less is more. A perfect pint requires no more embellishment than the slightest sprinkle of sugar before being plopped onto crumbly biscuits. Cooking would diminish them, so any jammy urges are better saved for lesser fruit.

Rhubarb, on the other hand, needs a bit more care to become delectable. While the stalks are edible raw (though not the leaves, which are toxic), they blossom when cooked with just enough sugar to temper their tartness.

You could stew them on the stovetop, letting the pieces slowly collapse into compote. But roasting not only helps maintain at least a bit of their texture; it also allows the juices to caramelize and condense. You get a richer, more syrupy mixture with a pleasing, sticky texture.

I like to add a vanilla bean to the pan while the rhubarb is roasting, but orange or lemon zest would also add a heady perfume. And using Demerara instead of white sugar adds a mineral, molasses note.

As for the shortcakes themselves, I add some oats to make them earthier and richer.

One of the good things about this recipe is that you can roast the rhubarb and bake the shortcakes at the same time. You can do this hours in advance, or while your guests are nibbling hors d'oeuvres. Just make sure to let everything cool completely before assembling, otherwise the heat will melt the whipped cream into a puddle.

Of course, if you are lucky enough to have strawberries as well as rhubarb at the ready, you could serve some sugared slices alongside the shortcakes. As long as rhubarb is the star here, it will happily share the plate.

Rhubarb oat shortcakes

Total time: 1 hour

Makes 6 shortcakes

Note: We split out the roasted rhubarb recipe in case you want to serve it without the shortcakes.

For the shortcakes:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon old-fashioned oats

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange or lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cubed

2/3 cup heavy cream, more for brushing shortcakes

Demerara sugar, for garnish

One recipe roasted rhubarb (see left)

For serving:

1/2 heavy cream

1/2 cup crème fraîche

1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar or honey (optional)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Make the shortcakes: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, 1 cup oats, the brown sugar, the baking powder, the zest and the sea salt. Drop in butter and pulse until mixture forms lima-bean-size crumbs. Add cream and pulse until dough is just combined.

On a lightly floured surface, pat dough into a rectangle 3/4-inch thick. Brush generously with heavy cream and, lifting up a short side, fold dough in half as if you are closing a book. Cut dough into 6 squares. Transfer biscuits to prepared pan. Brush lightly with more cream and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon oats and the Demerara sugar. Chill until ready to bake.

To bake: Transfer the uncooked rhubarb (see recipe at left) to the oven. Bake 5 minutes. Add pan of biscuits to the oven with rhubarb. Continue to bake, tossing rhubarb occasionally and scraping the darkening pieces at the edges of the baking sheet into the center, until biscuits are golden and rhubarb is very tender and the juices are bubbling thickly and have caramelized at the edges of the pan, about 20 minutes longer. If biscuits are ready before rhubarb, remove from oven while rhubarb finishes cooking. Let biscuits and rhubarb cool completely.

To serve: In a small bowl, whisk together cream, crème fraîche and confectioners’ sugar or honey, if using, until mixture forms soft peaks. Split biscuits crosswise and spoon rhubarb and whipped cream over biscuit bottoms. Cover with biscuit tops.

Roasted rhubarb

2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and diced into 1-inch pieces (7 cups)

1 cup Demerara sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a large bowl, toss together rhubarb, Demerara sugar, melted butter, vanilla bean seeds and salt. Spread onto a large rimmed baking sheet. If making the shortcakes, bake as noted in shortcake recipe.

If making the rhubarb without shortcakes, bake 25 minutes in a 425-degree oven or until rhubarb is tender. Let cool before serving.