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A Little Fluff

When bad days cluster together, I find myself in search of fluff during the free minutes I have. Fluff can take lots of different forms. Cake is one type of fluff. Rhubarb Buckle with Ginger Crumb has really stolen my heart this week.

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It comes from Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. Richardson has also written the other book pictured here, Vintage Cakes. I have been enjoying these two little books immensely. The jam cake from Vintage Cakes was really well received by my ladies craft group (sorry, no picture. It’s been busy.) and the blueberry cake I made awhile back is also from this book. Now that fruit is starting to come back in season, I will probably be trying out more recipes from Rustic Fruit Desserts, and if they are all as yummy as the rhubarb cake, I will be very happy.

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I’ve also been doing a little bit of easy knitting that goes by quickly. These mitts should be done today. It will be nice to cross something off of my list and I’ll be just in time, too, since I am expecting a squishy yarn package or two in the next couple of days.

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Even my reading gets lighter. I had been working on Les Miserables and some other various classics and even a history book, but this week, all my reading time was devoted to a fluffy book called Needles and Pearls. It’s one of those girly books loosely based around someone who owns a knitting shop. While not particularly great writing or even a great story, it was easy on the brain and calming in the sense that it did not raise any heightened emotions. Just what I needed this week. Sometimes, real life is stressful enough and I don’t need more stress in my reading or crafting or baking.

What about you? How do you change your routines when life get stressful?

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Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

For us, spring means rain, tulips, cherry blossoms, strawberries, and rhubarb. Rhubarb, I know, is not everyone’s favorite flavor, but we happen to love it. It’s got a great tartness that goes especially well with strawberries, but is also great on its own. Today’s Tuesday’s with Dorie recipe is a lovely sweet butter cake that is paired with rhubarb and a sprinkling of pecans.

Since I do not have eight little baby cake pans, I decided to make the cake in a 12 inch cast iron pan. I briefly considered the 10 inch pan because I really did not think that there would be enough batter to fill up a 12 inch, but a 10 inch cast iron pan is not as big as you would think after you factor in the thickness and slope of the sides.

Of course, baking the cake in the pan meant that I had fewer dishes, which always makes me happy, and I did not have to do all the prep work to get any baking pans ready. From start to finish, the cake took a little over an hour to make. Prepping rhubarb is as easy.

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I did not even try to arrange the rhubarb decoratively in the pan. There were just too many little pieces for all that fussiness. So, I just sprinkled it around as evenly as I could.

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The cake batter was easily mixed up and spread on top of the fruit. It did seem a little skimpy for the size of the pan, but I decided to just go with it and see what would come of it.

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After 40 minutes in the oven, I pulled it out since it looked quite done.

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I thought it was a little paler in the middle than I would have liked. The edges were nice and caramelized, though.

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It was a super moist and deliciously buttery cake, which really complimented the slightly tangy rhubarb.

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We served it with fresh, organic strawberries and it was a good combination. This cake would be wonderful with pears, plums, nectarines, or even berries. We had it for breakfast the next day and it was just as good. Rhubarb does start to taste differently after a day or so, so it is best to eat up baked rhubarb goodies right away. There are no complaints about that here.

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This is as easy an upside down cake as you’ll get, and I highly recommend it. I used sour cream, which made the cake delicious. Next time, I may consider trying the smaller pan and maybe dark brown sugar. It was a thinish cake, and I wonder if I would get better caramelization on the fruit if I use a smaller pan with a longer baking time. As long as the batter doesn’t overflow, that would probably work out well.

Try this recipe! It’s a good one. You can find it here.

Berry Good

Ok, now that we’ve got our obligatory exercise under our belts, it’s time to consider what there is to be done with ten pounds of strawberries.  Here are some of our favorite ways to eat strawberries.

1.  The first thing we did was eat a lot of them, of course.  Then, we sorted them into two piles:  An “Oh my, these are beautiful and we must eat these” pile and a pile for the rest.  Surprisingly, the eating pile was not that big.  But, no worries.

2.  The second thing I did was make biscuits and whipped cream for strawberry shortcakes.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures to show you of these because they were scarfed down too quickly.  Sorry.

3.  Then, I made some strawberry balsamic jam.

Scrumptious.  The vanilla bean that I added highlights the sweetness of the strawberries and the balsamic vinegar gives the jam a depth of flavor that I never expected.  You can’t tell that it has vinegar in it, but there is an extra flavor that you can’t quite put your finger on, so you just want a little more.  It was perfect with the leftover biscuits from the shortcake.

4.  With the remainder of the strawberries, I made the first pie of the summer season.

Strawberry rhubarb pie.

For this pie, I added some of my strawberry  rhubarb jam from last year in place of some of the sugar.  I thought it might intensify the fruity flavors.  I also used instant Clearjel for the first time.  This is a thickener that is preferred by the America’s Test Kitchen and is sold by King Arthur Flour.  My old straw-rhub pie recipe called for flour as a thickener and I have never been fond of the flavor of flour in my pie filling.  Usually, I use tapioca, but have never for this particular pie (don’t ask me why, I don’t think I’d have a rational answer).

The filling of the pie did indeed come out really fruity and I think the clearjel really helped to let those flavors shine through.  It was nicely set, without being too jelly-like or runny and it was really clear (not cloudy).  It tasted really great the day it was made.  The next day, I found the filling to be a little gummy, but I have always found that pies always taste their best on the first day.  I also tried a new pie dough recipe, but I’ll talk about that another time.

And that was it for the strawberries we picked over the weekend.  They don’t keep long, so they have to be eaten or preserved somehow within a few days.  It makes for a berry intense (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!) few days, but worth every minute.  Now, we may have to go pick some more or maybe just go to the store.  I’m not sure I’m ready for another strawberry yoga session.

What’s your favorite way to eat strawberries?

Not Your Average Shortbread

Ever since I bought the Baking with Julia book many years ago, I have been eying this recipe for Hungarian shortbread, but I have never made it.  The photos are really enticing.  There’s this jewel-like layer of jam sandwiched between two shortbread layers and it is all showered with a generous coating of powdered sugar.  I have been longing for this shortbread.  So, why have I waited 12 years to make it?  I’ll tell you why.

A pound of butter.  The recipe calls for a pound of butter and makes just one 9 by 12 inch pan of shortbread.  For some reason, that just seemed like an awful lot of butter, even for me, and I do not normally shy away from butter content at all.  In fact, I have been known to go through multiple pounds of butter in a day, but I do a lot of bulk baking and I freeze a lot for future events.

Anyway, excuses aside, I was excited to finally try this recipe because I thought it would be really good.  I mean, can you go wrong with a pound of butter, some flour, egg yolks, and jam?  Also, I was interested in its unusual method of freezing the cookie dough and then grating it into the pan.  Getting the dough together and shaped into tubes that would fit in my food processor was easy enough.

With the food processor, grating was really easy and just took a few seconds.  I wanted two different flavors, so I used two eight inch pans.  The grated dough looks a lot like grated cheese.  After I spread out the bottom layer, I baked the bottoms for 15 minutes first.

After the bottom baked for a bit, I took them out and spread jam on top.  I used jams I made last year: one was a rhubarb jam with candied ginger and the other was a raspberry blueberry jam.  I wanted to stay faithful to the recipe, but, honestly, not everyone likes rhubarb.  My husband and I love it, but my kids, not so much.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be too bothered by this, but we are talking about a pound of butter here and I didn’t think it wise that the husband and I should be “stuck” with the whole pan.   This way, most people would be happy and I wouldn’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe.

Anyway, the shortbread looked and smelled delicious coming out of the oven.  I think I tried to pull out one of them a little early.  That is why one of them appears cracked.  I pushed it back together and had no issues with it.  The bars stayed together just fine.

This time, I planned ahead a little and made sure to make this on a day when a good friend was coming over for a chinwag.  It was great.  Finally, after all these great recipes, I was able to have a little tea party.  These were perfect with tea.  They were a little crunchy, but then they melted in your mouth.  The rhubarb jam was a great, tart contrast and the berry was very yummy as well. All the kids chose berry and they were inhaled at a record pace.  I think the grating of the dough really made this a fluffy shortbread, not the dense, crunchy kind you normally think of when you hear the word shortbread.

The rhubarb version is in the foreground and the berry is in the back.  We had a great time chatting and I was happy to discover that my dear friend loves rhubarb!  Now, clearly, we did not eat them all.  I sent some home with her, but still had over two dozen left, so I took them with me to a workshop over the weekend.  When it was over, the tin was empty.  Everyone loved them.  The husband even said that they were the best shortbread he has ever had.  And now, I’m a little sad that we don’t have any left over.  I think I may have to make some more.

Now that I think about it, a pound of butter is not so bad.  I got 32 servings from my two pans, which makes it about one tablespoon of butter per bar.  That’s better than a piece of pie.  I have a lot more jam in the cupboard.  I wonder what I should try next?  Fig citrus?  Cherry grapefruit?  Apricot butter?  Strawberry Peach?

You can try these yourself.  I highly recommend the food processor for grating–I can only imagine the mess when doing it by hand.  The recipe is posted here and here.