Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Best Thing I Know How To Make

I've written about this before, but it's finally the time of year to celebrate it again. It's the cornerstone of my dessert-making expertise. The best use of strawberries possible. The reason I became obsessed with Smitten Kitchen. The clearest explanation of why strawberries and rhubarb grow from the ground at the same time of year.

Strawberry. Rhubarb. Crumble.

Deb's secret ingredient is lemon: juice in with the fruit, and zest in the crumble. Using lemon brightens it all up, sharpens the flavors, unifies the soft fragrant inside with the crispy buttery topping.

My secret ingredient is all in the berries. Red red red strawberries, from Rob at Whitted Bowers farm. Beautiful.

I'd purchased two quarts from Rob on Saturday morning at the market. Then saw rhubarb for the first time on Sunday afternoon at Weaver Street. I nearly jumped for joy, knew in my heart that the ruby stalks would soon be chopped and mixed in with the berries to become this, my favorite fruity treat of all time.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble from Smitten Kitchen

Yields 6 to 8 servings.

For the topping:
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar (I use brown sugar)
Zest of one lemon
1/4 pound (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
1 1/2 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 quart strawberries plus a few extras, hulled, quartered
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt

1. Heat oven to 375°F. Prepare topping: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugars and lemon zest and add the melted butter. Mix until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate until needed. (I put all the dry ingredients in a tupperware with a steady lid, then add the melted butter and mix it in with a fork, and then, with the top securely fastened, shake! Clumps will magically form in small and large sizes.)

2. Prepare filling: Toss rhubarb, strawberries, lemon juice, sugar, cornstarch and a pinch of salt in a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. (I use a 9x9 brownie pan.)

3. Remove topping from refrigerator and cover fruit thickly and evenly with topping. Place pie plate on a (foil-lined, if you really want to think ahead) baking sheet, and bake until crumble topping is golden brown in places and fruit is bubbling beneath, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Yes. This crumble is wonderful. I've eaten it with many people I love in years past, and this summer's first crumble was no different. I had three of my most favorite people, my Carrboro support system, waiting in my living room when this beauty came out of the oven.

The timing was perfect: I'd put the crumble in the oven at the start of a difficult phone conversation, and as it cooled on the stovetop less than an hour later, my heart was in need of a reassuring treat. The crumble, in combination with my beautiful friends, provided a sweet end to an emotional evening. Strawberries and rhubarb (and butter, and don't forget sugar) will bring a girl back to the beauty of the present moment better than any other springtime dessert I can imagine.

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