Sometimes you are just sitting, innocently minding your own business, watching your daughter perform in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Just watching, soaking in her enthusiasm and joy, watching her recite lines that you saw in the beat up script that she carried around for months but didn't mean much to you on the page. Now listening, hearing those words come to life.
Then you hear it: "rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb."
But there it is, clear as day, "rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb-rhubarb." Two characters, mumbling, saying that word of all words.
And not just any characters, mind you. It is one boy playing a boy playing a girl and another boy playing a boy playing a boy, mumbling through a girl playing a boy playing a wall. And it gets you thinking about how Shakespeare only used male actors to play all the roles so that there was lots of crossdressing going on. And you think how much funnier it is to watch those gender roles all scrambled than it would be if it were just boys playing boys, girls playing girls, and walls playing walls.
And in a way, you think, Rhubarb is a very Shakespearian vegetable. Sure, tomatoes are botanically fruits that we more commonly treat as vegetables (as are beans, squash, corn, etc., all of whom carry their own seeds within themselves, but for some reason nobody talks about them being fruits).
But I can't think of any other vegetables that masquerade as fruits. Rhubarb, then, is special.
Also, rhubarb is delicious. Even all by itself as the star of the show.
Your mind does wander like this, too . . . doesn't it?
The individual components for the dessert can be made several hours in advance and assembled just before serving. When I served these on Saturday, I halved this recipe and also made a separate strawberry topping for those who wanted a more traditional dessert. I used about a quart of strawberries, and loosely followed this recipe. Most of us opted for open-faced shortcakes with strawberries on one side and rhubarb on the other.
35 minutes preparation time
15 minutes baking time
For the shortcakes:
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup milk
cream for brushing (a tablespoon or less)
For the rhubarb:
5-6 cups rhubarb, trimmed, washed, and diced (about a pound)
1/4 cup sugar
small pinch cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
For the whipped cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
To make the shortcakes, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl Mix in the butter with your fingers, mashing it into the flour until the mixture is the texture of coarse cornmeal. Slowly stir in the milk a bit at a time, using just enough to get the mixture to hold together. Knead the dough for about a minute. Roll it into a ball and flatten it into a disk.
Flour a work surface and roll the dough out until it is approximately 1/2 inch thick. Cut it into 2-inch rounds (or hearts or diamonds...). After you have cut one batch, re-roll the dough and cut again. When you are left with small scraps, shape them into a final disk. It will be lumpy, but it will still taste good. Arrange the shortcakes on the cookie sheet and brush them with a bit of cream. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, just until the cakes turn a pale gold color. Remove them from the oven and set them aside to cool on a rack.
Toss the rhubarb, sugar, and cinnamon together in a small saucepan. With the lid on, heat the rhubarb over medium-low heat until the rhubarb releases its juices, about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and let the mixture simmer until the rhubarb is very soft, about 15 minutes.
To make the cream mixture, whip the heavy cream, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla together until it is the texture of whipped cream.
When they are cool enough to handle, split them horizontally with a large knife. The shortcakes are firm and this is easier to do than it initially seems it will be.
To serve, place the bottom of each shortcake on a platter. Spoon about two tablespoons of the rhubarb mixture on top, and then layer on the whipped cream. Gently place the cake top on the whipped cream.