While cooking, listen to this: Sweet Life - Frank Ocean
Sometimes I pretend I'm Ina Garten.
Okay, it might be more than sometimes. We all have our thing.
Sometimes this means I simply put on a button-down shirt and feel the power of Ina. Other times I spend a half hour arranging flowers, hoping that she and her bestie, Michael, would be proud of me. This week, it meant going to the grocery store looking for inspiration, as is Ina's way. She is very much in the buy-first, create-recipe-second camp, which feels very easy to do when you live next to like, seventeen farms. While bopping around my local grocery store - "bopping" is the very scientific term to describe wandering aimlessly around a store when it is pouring outside and you can't face your emails yet. Bopping can also be applied to Sephora, Lush and anywhere else that involves smelling and swatching a lot of products.
Anyway, so while I was bopping around my local grocery store, I came across the bright pink delight that is rhubarb. "Whoa, that is extremely pink. I must have it," I thought. Let it be known that I have never eaten rhubarb, let alone cooked with it. "Rina, what are you going to do with this giant pink celery?" I thought some more. Then I remembered that Ina Garten doesn't falter in the face of an unfamiliar fruit (vegetable? mineral? seriously what is rhubarb?). She grabs that fruit/vegetable/whatever with both hands and finds a way to make it delicious. So grab I did, two pounds actually, and with head held high and basket full of rhubarb, I walked out of that store determined to make Ina proud of me.
I think I did it. These bars are unreal. I mean, they are pretty much butter, sugar, rhubarb, almonds, more butter and more sugar. To quote my hero, "what could be bad about that?" NOTHING, Ina. Nothing could be bad about that. They're also really easy to make! They have a bunch of steps, but each step is simple - don't let the fear of a fancy French word deter you, frangipane is simple to make and divine to eat.
What's nice about these bars is that the base and crumble top are made from the same dough (which is also pretty cool because this dough can take on multiple forms, meaning it is more or less a superhero). The key to the dough is making sure your butter is ICE COLD. As in, what's cooler than being cool. Cut the butter up into small chunks, and incorporate it into the flour mixture by rubbing it between your fingers with the flour. This ensures that a good ratio of butter is mixed into the flour, leaving some glorious butter-nuggets behind.
When you cut into these bars, you'll see a beautiful cross section. There's sugar/butter dough part A, frangipane, stewed rhubarb and sugar/butter dough part B. Those layers are worth the multiple bowls you'll need, trust me. Also worth it will be the bragging rights obtained by saying you made your very own frangipane (and that you know what the word means.)
So put on your best neutral-toned button-up shirt, kiss Jeffrey goodbye and whip out your "good vanilla." If you make a dessert and use artificial vanilla, will anyone even care?
Love and meows, Rina
RHUBARB ALMOND CRUMBLE BARS
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups (390 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Zest of one lemon
1 cup (8 ounces or 225 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg
1 to 1½ pounds rhubarb (about 5 cups ½-inch diced)
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (NOTE: I use vanilla powder in most of my baking because that's what I have at home. If you do this too, just use ¼ teaspoon of it)
1 stick plus two tablespoons (140g) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup (160g) sugar
Heaping ¾ cup (200g) ground almonds (might also say "almond flour" or something similar)
Preheat the oven: 375 F, and grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.
Prepare the dough: in a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and lemon zest. Add the eggs and butter chunks, and here is a "choose your own adventure." The clean way to do this is to use a pastry cutter or fork to work the butter and egg into your dry ingredients. The messy (and more fun way, if I do say so myself) way is to use your hands. With this method, rub the butter into the flour with the pads of your thumb and pointer finger (like in the picture above). With both methods, you want some butter bits strewn throughout the dough, as opposed to a completely homogeneous mixture. Your dough will be crumbly. Take half of the dough and pat it evenly into the pan.
Prepare the rhubarb filling: in a medium saucepan, combine rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch and salt and place on medium heat. Stir this REALLY well - the cornstarch needs to be fully incorporated, otherwise you'll get these weird, gelatinous cornstarch chunks, and they are far from appetizing. Once it's all combined you can stop stirring so vigorously, but keep your eye on it so that it doesn't burn. It will start to thicken after around 10/15 minutes, and once it thickens remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Allow this to cool down while you prepare your frangipane.
Prepare the frangipane: in a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar until just combined - we aren't going for pale and creamy buttercream here. Once it's combined, add the ground almonds and eggs and again, mix until just combined. I like to mix the almonds and eggs in with a spatula so that it doesn't get too mixed up, but you can definitely use your mixer - mix until just about combined, and then give it a few turns with a spatula to make sure the stuff on the bottom gets mixed in.
Prepare the layers: spoon the frangipane onto the dough base, using a spatula or palette knife. Spoon the rhubarb on top of this, making sure both the rhubarb and frangipane are evenly distributed. Take the second half of the dough and, using your hands, crumble over the rhubarb layer.
Place in the oven for 45 minutes: remember, not all ovens were created equal, so take these out of the oven when the top starts to brown. This might take more or less than 45 minutes, so keep an eye out.
Allow to cool completely before cutting: if you don't wait, you'll end up with a spoonable crumble, which is delicious, but not what we're going for here. These are hefty bars, so being totally cool allows you to cut into them as easily as possible.
To serve: these bars are divine on their own, but we did find that vanilla ice cream went really well with them. This is probably a surprise to no one.
To keep: weirdly enough, and Deb at smitten kitchen notes this, these bars actually stay a lot better if you keep them in the fridge. So cut up your leftovers (if you have any) and stick them in the fridge so they can live their best lives.