As a child growing up in suburban Long Island, I wasn’t really exposed to rhubarb. In fact, the first time I experienced rhubarb anything was in northern Michigan, as a 19 year old college student. I think my first reaction was mild confusion. I vaguely recall it tasting like a nondescript fruit-vegetable, and a sour one at that. Why do people like this so much? I remember asking myself then. Maybe it was a delicacy, not unlike pieces of sashimi at a sushi restaurant. Something you poke, sniff, and examine with close scrutiny before you take a careful bite. Years later, and after many a dessert featuring strawberry rhubarb (including strawberry rhubarb Noosa yoghurt… oh jeez, don’t get me started on the amazingness of Noosa), I’ve realized that:
- I really do like rhubarb, but only if it’s paired with a sweet fruit like strawberry
- Rhubarb is a vegetable, which is probably why I find it intimidating (celery’s cousin, much?)
- Rhubarb can be bought frozen, pre-cut
This last point is really important because I spent a good deal of time in the produce section of the grocery outlining the pros and cons of using fresh versus frozen rhubarb for this strawberry rhubarb pudding cake. This was my first time handling rhubarb, so I figured I should stick pretty closely to the recipe (which called for fresh rhubarb), but the fresh rhubarb at the store was surprisingly pricey, and it didn’t look all too fresh. Plus, the frozen rhubarb was pre-cut and yet unsweetened. Convenience/laziness ended up winning that round, so I came home with two bags of frozen produce (strawberries and rhubarb), and got ready to caramelize some rhubarb in brown sugar.
I wouldn’t say the rhubarb caramelized by any means. It more or less just absorbed brown sugar juice and got sinewy and mushy. I still have no idea if it would’ve gotten caramelized (as the recipe suggested my rhubarb would) had it been fresh rather than frozen. But when my husband comes home and announces, “It smells like my grandma’s house when she’s baking rhubarb pie!”, I know I’m doing something right.
I have a feeling I’ll be making this custardy pudding cake again. Next time, I’ll try fresh rhubarb. We’ll see about those caramelized rhubarb chunks.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pudding Cake (adapted from eatwell101):
◾1 lb rhubarb (fresh or frozen)
◾1 ½ lbs strawberries (fresh or frozen)
◾1 ¼ C brown sugar
◾2 C all-purpose flour
◾3 ½ oz butter, melted
◾1 pint milk
◾1 tsp vanilla extract
◾1 pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 360°F. Butter a 13 x 9 baking dish.
- Peel and cut the rhubarb into small pieces (if you’re using fresh rhubarb) and caramelize them for 5 minutes in a pan with ½ c of brown sugar (add 1 tsp of water to the pan if you’re using fresh rhubarb).
- Arrange the whole buttered dish with strawberries and cooked rhubarb.
- In a bowl, break the eggs and add the melted butter, remaining brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly, then sift in the flour and warm vanilla-milk, alternating and whisking the batter in between.
- Pour batter over fruit into the dish.
- Bake for one hour.
- Cool and top with confectioner’s sugar.