Saturday, June 18, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

It is nice to have a favorite recipe for particular people when I want to make them feel appreciated. When it comes time to make a special dessert for my husband, there is a very good chance that he will choose Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp. I think it will be on the menu for Father’s day this year since we recieved rhubarb in our farm CSA share.


Crisps are a quintessential dessert in my house year round. It is my favorite baked fruit dessert because it is simple to make and allows the fruity goodness to shine through with notes of sweetness and a delectable crispy topping. I like the crumb topping better than piecrust and it is much easier to put together. I first learned to make crisps as a newlywed from a copy of Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer written in way back in 1931 and reprinted multiple times. I received it as a wedding gift. I learned so much about cooking from that book! My crisp has been changing through the years but has the same foundation.

I must tell you that for such a simple dessert, it is very well liked! I was once asked to bring two peach crisps to our neighborhood BBQ. After dinner, someone came out of the house to tell me that they had not been quick enough and all of the crisp was gone. I went into the house to check and heard giggling in the pantry. I opened the panty door to find five neighbor ladies huddled inside with spoons devouring the extra crisp. It is probably one of the best compliments my crisps have received.

I have been often been asked the difference between a crisp and a cobbler. While both are basically baked fruit on the bottom, the topping is quite different in texture and taste. Cobblers are baked with a biscuit like dough and crisp have a crumbly, streusel like topping of mostly sugar, flour and butter with perhaps oats, nuts or other add-ins. I believe the British call it a crumble.

My favorite crisp in the fall is apple and in late summer its peach or cherry but for spring and early summer- strawberry rhubarb wins out. Rhubarb is one of my husband’s favorites but as a child, I had tasted rhubarb that had been cooked to a slimy texture and did not like it until I tried it again in the last couple of years. This recipe does not cook the rhubarb down to a slimy consistency like some do and I prefer it this way! The strawberries add a nice sweet touch but tart cherries work equally well in this.

I have read somewhere that baked fruit desserts like crisps, cobblers, buckles, grunts and slumps were popular (and some even originated) in colonial America. They started out as a breakfast item not a dessert.

I like to add a bit of oatmeal to this because it is traditional in crisps, it gives it a nice texture and because it gives me an excuse to eat it for breakfast. I know many people from other countries are not so familiar with  oatmeal. I often have international students decline an oatmeal cookie based on other oatmeal experiences but once they taste it, they are amazed at how good oatmeal can be and it is also good for you. Oatmeal adds some nutrition to this. However, the oatmeal can be omitted if you don’t have any.

I do add in some things that not all crisps have and I like the result. If I have any cookies that go well, I crush some up and throw them in the topping at the end. I love nuts and if everyone is okay with it, I add some nuts on part or all of the top.

Feel free to adjust anything in the recipe to suit your tastes. Maybe less sugar or more topping . Do try this with other kinds of fruit. Most juicy, tart fruits can be used in this recipe whereas apples do not need mixing with cornstarch or sugar. You can add ½ tsp. vanilla extract to this or almond extract to peach or cherry crisp. You can make the topping a bit better for you by using ½ whole wheat flour, which works really well. You can also add in some good stuff like wheat germ or flax meal. My next test on this is substituting coconut oil for the butter and seeing how that works.

Go ahead a try a crisp with some summer fruit. Add a nice dollop of vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

2 ½ -4 cups strawberries
3-4 cups rhubarb ( try to end up with about 7ish cups of fruit total)
1 -1 ½ cups sugar
2-3 TBSPN corn starch
2 tsp lemon juice OR 1 TBPN orange juice, optional

Crust:
1 cup brown sugar ( white is okay if you don’t have brown)
¾ cup flour ( may substitute ¼c + whole wheat and a few TBSP wheat germ or Flax meal)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened( may use more if too dry)
½ - ¾ cup oats, optional*
½ tsp cinnamon, optional
½ - ¾ cup chopped nuts, pecans or walnuts, optional
½ cup crushed ginger snap or vanilla wafer cookies, optional**

Wash, hull and cut strawberries into thick slices. Wash and trim rhubarb and thinly slice or dice. Place in bowl with sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Use more cornstarch if you like a thicker consistency. Let it sit 15 minutes or so while making topping.

Preheat oven to 350. Combine sugar and flour in large bowl. Cut in bits of slightly softened butter(I let it set out for 5 minutes. ) Using two table knives or pastry cutter, cut and blend until mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. If you like a light, crispy topping, don't get butter too soft--it should not be a paste.
Blend in oats, crushed cookies, cinnamon if using. This may be done an hour ahead of time.

Place fruit in a baking dish – rectangular is optimal around 13x 7 or smaller and deeper but should hold at least 9 cups. Sprinkle with topping. Bake for about 40 minutes until bubbly and browned on top.
Great served warm with ice cream or room temperature with whipped cream.

Notes:
*Oats are raw oatmeal. I use either whole oats or quick, but NOT instant. If preferred, roll oats between your hands to break them up a bit.
**To crush ginger snaps, put them in a food processor or place in zip lock small storage bag and roll with rolling pin or smash with meat tenderizer, can or other heavy tool. I try to get them somewhat uniform.