Baking, for me, is a largely whimsical activity. I could be struck by the need to make pie dough and suddenly, I’ll be up in the middle of the night, watching the sun rise, and listening to the birds come awake, while cutting butter into flour with my fingers, as everyone else sleeps.
But other times, the inspiration comes to me slowly, sprouting like a seed planted at the back of my mind, and unfurling until I’m absolutely sure of what I want to make, and can practically feel the dough being rolled, smell the fruit bubbling, and see the steam rising from the bread.
Such was the case with these rhubarb bars. I played with browned butter and pecans, and toyed with adding strawberries, but in the end, I settled on a simple but beautiful recipe: my favorite shortbread crust, topped by a tart, fruity rhubarb jam and sprinkled with an improvised buckwheat streusel. They were sweet, crumby and moist, and satisfied my rhubarb craving wonderfully…for the meanwhile.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 pounds rhubarb, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 3/4 cup sugar
- juice of 1 large orange
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
- streusel recipe of your choice (I used a buckwheat and oat variation, hence the darker crumbs)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 by 13 baking sheet.
- For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed.
- Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.
- Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on and adjust the heat to 375 degrees.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the 3/4 cup sugar and rhubarb. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, so that the sugar starts breaking down and dissolving.
- Then dump in the vanilla bean pod and scrapings, and the orange and lemon juices. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has broken down into a thick jam, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool, and remove the vanilla bean.
- Spread the jam over the crust in an even layer. Use your fingers to sprinkle the streusel mixture of your choice loosely over the top
- Bake the bars until the streusel turns a deep golden brown, 30 – 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
- Peel away the sides of the parchment carefully. Trim away the outer 1/4″ from each side, then cut into bars.