Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ketchup & Toast! Wait…Lemon Cake & Rhubarb? You sneaky little…

written and photographed by Rebekah Peppler
This month brings about sunny days tinged with the chill of early spring, blooming cherry blossoms and lighthearted April fools. There is also the revival of color to the green markets, bustling and alive with the energy that only bright, fresh produce can bring after months of root vegetables and apple cider.

Rhubarb leads the pack of these new bright colors; the vibrant red to pale pink stalks of field-grown rhubarb fill baskets and bags, destined for kitchens all around the city. Many delicious pies, tarts and crisps will be made but why not have a bit more unconventional fun with rhubarb this year.

Since playing with food is just as much fun as eating it, fool your nearest and dearest this April with a riff on takeout French fries for dessert, or breakfast, or perhaps just a midday snack. This combination of lemony pound cake, sweet and juicy compote and freshly whipped cream is perfect for a spring day, fools or not.

Pound cake is one of my favorite desserts, not only because it is delicious, delicate and dense at the same time but because it is conveniently “tant pour tant.” Traditionally the four main ingredients – butter, flour, sugar and eggs – all weigh the same. In fact, you can probably surmise how the pound cake came by its name: a pound of each is all you need to make a fabulous cake. Nonetheless, I love to enhance this perfectly proportioned cake with sweet Meyer lemon zest and vanilla to give it that extra boost of flavor.

The strawberry is rhubarb’s classic accomplice, combining its sweet nectar with rhubarb’s snappy tang. The fact that it contributes a red, pseudo-ketchup color only makes it all the better.

Recipe: Toasted Lemon Pound Cake “Fries” with Strawberry-Rhubarb “Ketchup”
Lemon Pound Cake – Adapted from the French Culinary Institute
Yields two loaves
450 g / 1 lb / 4 ½ cups cake flour
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp baking powder
450 g / 1 lb / 2 cups butter
450 g / 1 lb / 2 cups granulated sugar
2 Meyer lemons, zested
9 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
Cream the butter, sugar and zest until light and fluffy, scraping down sides often.
Whisk together eggs and vanilla extract and add gradually.
Stir in sifted ingredients just to combine.
Pour into buttered and floured loaf pans and bake for 20 minutes at 325˚F, then lower the oven to 300˚F and bake another 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely, then slice into French fry sticks and toast in a 350˚F until lightly browned.
Serve with Rhubarb “Ketchup” and Crème Chantilly ”Mayonaise”

Compote de Rhubarb/”Ketchup”
454 g / 1 lb rhubarb
227 g / ½ lb strawberries
50 g / ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla
Juice and zest of 3 Meyer lemons

Peel the rhubarb with a vegetable peeler and cut evenly into ¼ inch cubes
Cut strawberries into same size pieces.
Stir together rhubarb, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and water in a saucepan over low heat to coat the fruit, bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and cook stirring occasionally until the rhubarb and strawberries are soft and falling apart.
Blend the compote and strain through a sieve.

Crème Chantilly/”Mayonaise”
½ cup heavy cream, chilled
2 Tbsp confectioners sugar, sifted
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
pour the cream into a chilled bowl and whisk until thickened. Add sifted confectioners sugar and vanilla and whip to a soft peak.

Tips for buying and storing Rhubarb:
Stalks should be firm and crisp
While size doesn’t indicate tenderness, the brighter red the rhubarb is the sweeter it will taste
Remove fibers from the stalk with a vegetable peeler
To store, refrigerate stalks in a plastic bag for 3 to 5 days
For longer storage chop into 1 – inch pieces and freeze in an airtight bag up to 9 months
Never eat the leaves of rhubarb as they contain toxins that can cause poisoning when ingested
1 lb = 3 cups raw sliced rhubarb

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