A fresh take on rhubarb crisp

Related to rhubarb, nutty buckwheat combines with it to make an ideal streusel

Photo: Daytona Strong Luscious wisps of baked rhubarb are dotted with tiny vanilla seeds in this fresh take on a classic.

Photo: Daytona Strong
Luscious wisps of baked rhubarb are dotted with tiny vanilla seeds in this fresh take on a classic.

Daytona Strong
Norwegian American Weekly

Tiny buds beginning to bloom, leaves unfurling, magenta stalks of rhubarb showing up in the market—the changing of the seasons comes with a vibrant proclamation: spring is here.

My dad tells stories of eating rhubarb raw as a child in Norway, and I’ve since learned that he was hardly alone in that delight. Rhubarb plants are plentiful in Norway, hardy even in the cold northern climate, and I’ve read about children who, like my dad, would pick a stalk, dip it in sugar, and happily take a bracing bite.

Rhubarb has only been in Norway for a few hundred years (I’ve read sources saying it was imported from Asia sometime from the 16th to 18th century). Norwegians used it as a medicinal plant at first, only starting to bake with it in the past two centuries.

Perhaps due to my Norwegian roots, I love the tartness of rhubarb and prefer desserts that use the minimal amount of sugar, prompting just the right amount of pucker. And often, the simpler the better. I make a traditional Norwegian rhubarb cake with little more than butter, eggs, flour, and sugar. It’s also delicious stewed into a compote or jam. And an easy side dish of roasted rhubarb provides just the right foil to the oiliness of Norwegian mackerel.

But for as well as rhubarb shines in simple preparations, I recently discovered how well it also lends itself to experimentation and more complex flavor combinations. After multiple courses at a Scandinavian-inspired dinner at The Pantry in Seattle last month, they brought out a rhubarb cardamom crisp with buckwheat streusel and whipped crème fraîche. The buckwheat provided a hearty, well-balanced finish to the warm, comforting dessert. I later learned why: buckwheat is related to rhubarb. The flavors were intriguing and I knew I had to share the recipe here in the Norwegian American Weekly.

In this particular dessert, tiny specks of vanilla beans cling to the soft chunks of rhubarb that have melted into themselves. Cardamom mingles with orange-scented Grand Marnier, and a rich, dark streusel tops it all, the buckwheat adding a nutty dimension with the texture of crumbly cookies dotted with chopped almonds. Served with a dollop of whipped crème fraîche alongside, it’s a warm, cozy dessert, just right for ending a spring dinner.

Photo: Daytona Strong Rhubarb and buckwheat are related, making them a natural pairing in this comforting spring dessert.

Photo: Daytona Strong
Rhubarb and buckwheat are related, making them a natural pairing in this comforting spring dessert.

Rhubarb cardamom crisp with buckwheat streusel and whipped crème fraîche

Buckwheat streusel:
1 3/4 ounces (6 ½ tbsps) buckwheat flour
1 3/4 ounces (6 ½ tbsps) all-purpose flour
2 1/4 ounces (1/3 cup) brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 ounces (1/3 cup) chopped almonds
3 ounces (6 tbsps) unsalted butter, room temperature

Rhubarb filling:
1 pound 9 ounces chopped rhubarb
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1/3 tsp crushed cardamom
3 tbsps cornstarch
3 tbsps Grand Marnier

Whipped crème fraîche:
1 cup crème fraîche
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsps sugar

Make the streusel:
In a bowl, stir together the buckwheat flour, all-purpose flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and almonds.

Add the butter into the flour mixture and smash together, using your fingers. As the butter warms up, the mixture will begin to come together. Keep smashing the butter in until the mixture has the texture of cookie dough rather than sand.

Store in the fridge or freezer until ready to be baked. When ready to use, break up any large clumps. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Make the rhubarb filling:
Split and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod. Rub the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar until evenly dispersed. Mix everything together in a medium bowl and pour into a small baking dish.

Arrange the streusel evenly atop the fruit filling. Bake the crisp until golden brown, and filling is bubbling up the sides, about 45-50 minutes.

Make the whipped crème fraîche:
Place the crème fraîche, heavy cream, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip until the mixture holds medium peaks.

The recipe, as provided by The Pantry in Seattle, is perfect just the way it is. But feel free to use Cointreau in place of the Grand Marnier, if that’s what you have. The same goes with sour cream in place of the crème fraîche. And if you love cardamom, by all means increase the amount.

Serves six.

Daytona Strong is a Seattle-based food writer and recipe developer. She writes about her family’s Scandinavian heritage through the lens of food at www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo; Twitter @daytonastrong; Pinterest @daytonastrong; and Instagram @daytonastrong.

This article originally appeared in the April 24, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.