Rhubarb heralds the arrival of spring

Vibrant rhubarb and classic cardamom create a springtime treat perfect for a Nordic Easter

Photo: Maria Stordahl Nelson Rhubarb adds a touch of spring to this treat for Easter.

Photo: Maria Stordahl Nelson
Rhubarb adds a touch of spring to this treat for Easter.

Maria Stordahl Nelson
Seattle, Wash.

The early arrival of spring rhubarb in my garden usually occurs at or around the same time as the first tender blossoms begin to open on my white dogwood tree. After a winter of long, dark, and wet days, the frilly pink and chartreuse leaves so bravely poking through the dark, crumbly earth instantly brings me a small rush of happiness. A little thrill that allows me to envision delightful treats baked with cream, cardamom, and luscious rhubarb compotes along with my favorite, homemade cordials begging for a spritz of bubbly water or champagne. Rhubarb is spring.

Because rhubarb’s timely spring arrival just so happens to coincide with Easter, it seems a natural decision to showcase some of its delicious flavors in my celebratory menu planning. You can bet it will make a presence on my table in both its sweet and savory forms.

The fact that rhubarb grows so plentifully throughout Scandinavia and has become ubiquitous in many Nordic recipes is not lost on me. Most Scandinavian cookbooks feature more than a few recipes and many of them have entire sections devoted solely to singing the praises of the ruby vegetable. Food writer and author Camilla Plum writes in her book, The Scandinavian Kitchen, “Rhubarb has become so naturalized in the Scandinavian climate that it is hard to believe that it arrived only during the 16th Century.” It’s easy to see how once introduced to Nordic climes it would thrive and become an essential ingredient in so many recipes. Its hardiness, beauty, and flavor make it all the more appealing.

Rhubarb compotes are some of my favorites. They are perfect on their own, added in large dollops to bowls of thick, creamy yogurt, or warmed and poured generously over cakes and ice cream; the options are endless. This recipe is one of my favorites, made with cardamom-scented rhubarb compote and light, fluffy, spongy crumb. The cake base is a heavy adaptation of the Macrina Bakery’s strawberry cupcake recipe and one of the best, I’ve found. The addition of my compote and a stabilized whipped cream icing round everything out beautifully.

Cardamom Rhubarb Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Icing
1 ½ cups rhubarb, cut into ½” dice
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 tsp. freshly ground cardamom

2 cups cake flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
4 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup +2 tbsps. whole milk, divided
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar

2 tbsps. cold water
2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
culinary dried rose petals, optional

Place the rhubarb, sugar, water, and cardamom in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring periodically until the rhubarb just begins to break down. You will want to have a few whole pieces left. Set aside to cool completely.

Once cooled, begin making the cupcakes. In a medium-size bowl, sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl combine the yolks, the extract, and 2 tbsps. of the milk. Whisk lightly and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Beat on medium for 4-5 minutes or until the butter mixture is light and pale in color. Add the egg mixture and incorporate. In two separate additions, add the dry mixture and the remaining ½ cup milk, alternating between the two and beginning with the dry mixture. Beat until mixture is just incorporated. Gently fold in the cooled rhubarb compote. Don’t over mix at this point.

Line a cupcake tin with muffin liners and fill each tin half full. Place tin on a cookie sheet and bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, then frost.

In the meantime, make the icing. Measure the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir it lightly to incorporate and set aside for 5 minutes to soften. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the cream, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar. Mix for 1 minute or until the mixture is fully incorporated. Heat the gelatin mixture in the microwave for 10 seconds only. You want the gelatin to be liquid, but not hot.

Turn the mixer to medium-low speed and gently add the gelatin to the cream. Gradually turn the mixer to high and whip the cream until stiff peaks form. Ice the cupcakes with the whipped cream, sprinkle with the rose petals, and serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Maria Stordahl Nelson is a Seattle-area food writer, photographer, and recipe developer. She shares her love of all things sweet, savory, and sometimes Nordic at www.pinkpatisserie.net.

This article originally appeared in the March 25, 2016, 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.