Monday, February 28, 2011

Fun With Rhubarb

Before I begin, I should apologize for holding out on you for so long. I've had this recipe in my back pocket for ages it seems, but out here in the country, if the wind blows the wrong way you lose your internet connection. The wind has been blowing a lot lately.
Winter is never easy for me. I suppose most people would say the same. It's hard to get out of bed in the morning when the sky is still dark and the floor is cold. It just feels a little unnatural. But winter also has an uncanny way of deamplifying everything else going on in your life, much the same way that snow absorbs sound. Things have a way of seeming surreal and distant during the winter months. At least until they finally creep up on you, and by then it's too late. This is a very mystical way of looking at things, to be sure, but I've always felt that emotions are slower to come out in the winter, hibernating perhaps. But when they do come out, they're stronger and more bitter. Harder to combat than on those golden summer days when the sun doesn't set until nine. Vitamin D is a powerful little vitamin. No mistake.
Is it any wonder, then, that we search for comfort in food? Winter is the perfect time for breaking out the bread pans, muffin tins, and that extra butter you keep in the freezer (come on, I know you do). Sometimes I feel that the only way I can function on winter mornings is to heat the oven and mix up a bowl of something sticky, preferably with the butter I thawed out previously. On most weekday mornings, I'm a steel-cut oats sort of girl. As much as I would love pancakes and muffins and coffee cake every morning, let's not kid ourselves. You aren't the only person with a figure to maintain. Besides, things taste better when you have lots of time to enjoy them. Thus, weekends are my baking days.
As it turns out, this practice is also a great way to make friends. There's a really wonderful saying that eternity is two people and a roast turkey. Eternity can also be two people and lots of scones. As much as I love those little triangular beauties, they can cause me no end of stress. They look perfectly innocent sitting blithely on the cutting board, but to me they are the sirens of the breakfast world, capable of calling to my stomach at all hours when I didn't know I was hungry. This is why they make great gifts. Let your neighbors or coworkers wrestle with the scone angel.
I can never stick with the same scone flavor. Blueberry is the little black dress of scones. You really can't go wrong there. If I'm trying to make a good impression and want to be sure of my success, blueberry is the go-to scone. But cranberry orange is pretty classic, too. A little tart, a little sweet, a little bright citrus flavor. But then, there are just endless things to be done with scones. On my death bed I'll probably be thinking about that one scone flavor I never got around to making. Ginger-apricot, raspberry-lemon, cherry-almond, chocolate-orange, golden raisin-cardamom, apple-garam masala... And I won't even start in on savory scones. But most of the time I just follow my pantry.
The other day at the abysmal produce department, I found some really lovely rhubarb. It's not really a fruit, but it masquerades as one, and towards the end of winter, who couldn't use more fruit? I had no plans for the rhubarb, but sometimes you just have to go for it and make plans later. One thing, though. I'm really tired of the strawberry rhubarb combination. It's not bad, but it's just so hackneyed. I've had one too many strawberry rhubarb pies. So I wondered to myself, “Self, what would be wrong with just using rhubarb?” At the worst, the scones would be a little tart. Nothing that a little jam can't fix.
So these scones aren't anything special. It's my go-to scone recipe (and everyone needs a go-to scone recipe) using rhubarb. These are not super sweet scones, so if you like them on the sweeter side, add a couple tablespoons sugar. I also like making my scones with buttermilk for extra tang, but half-and-half or cream can be used, to delicious effect. I call cream scones “company scones.” Also, I'm sure strawberries would be great in these, but make sure they're frozen. Otherwise, your scones will look and feel like mud. Not good, but it would probably taste okay.

Rhubarb Buttermilk Scones

Makes 8 scones

Preheat oven to 425°. Combine in a medium bowl:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole spelt flour
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cut in until mixture resembles “coarse meal.” (One of these days I'm going to come up with a better term for this.):
4 tablespoons (½ stick) chilled salted butter
Stir in until dough has not quite come together:
½ cup whole milk buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Knead in briefly without over-kneading:
1 ½ long rhubarb stalks, chopped
Form dough into a round and flatten to form a 7-8 inch round. Cut into eight wedges. Place wedges on a baking sheet or stone, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake until golden, about 12-15 minutes. Serve warm.

I used the rest of my rhubarb for this really tasty conserve (I don't know if "conserve" is the right thing to call it--not really a jam or preserve because it contains butter) that happens to be perfect on buttermilk biscuits. It's quick to whip up if you're having people over for brunch, and the recipe makes a small amount (a little less than a pint), so you aren't committing to a day standing over a hot stove with a wooden spoon glued to your hand. I used a skillet instead of a saucepan for this recipe because the greater surface area of the skillet allows the conserve to thicken faster.

Rhubarb Port Conserve
In a medium skillet over medium high heat, combine:
3 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup sugar
4 long rhubarb stalks, chopped
3/4 cup port wine
3 whole cloves
1 two-inch cinnamon stick
4 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
Simmer until the conserve is thick and the rhubarb has turned into mush. Remove the bay leaf. Spoon into a sterilized glass jar and cool completely before refrigerating.

1 comment:

Cynthia S. said...

Ginger apricot!! or ginger peach... Want! And I know what you mean about winter. Cold = toilet seat, ick. At least we don't have a frozen bowl, like Rob did where he lived in his twenties.