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Strawberry Rhubarb Double Crisp

Over the course of the past few days, the magnolia tree in my front yard has transformed from bright pink and white to leafy green. The daffodils are now in full bloom and our tulips from Amsterdam are rivalling the ones in the Kuekenhof. My mother’s Easter bunny cake has come and gone. The park is teeming with sunbathers and barbecues on the weekend. There’s an endless loop of The Invisible Band on in my head. I have begun to consume excessive quantities of Frae. There’s a volcano erupting in Iceland. And when I close my eyes I dream of rhubarb. It’s Spring.

When I hosted a few friends for a Spring dinner last Sunday, I was shocked to discover not one of them had ever tasted rhubarb, let alone the classic sweet-meets-tart combination of strawberries and rhubarb that exemplifies, to me, all the goodness that’s to be had this time of year. I quickly abandoned my ideas for new combinations of fruit and rhubarb (a cherry and rhubarb jalousie is high on my to-bake list) and introduced them to the tried and true standard, albeit with a few delightful twists.  Not surprisingly, Dorie has done it again: the ground and crystallized ginger and the addition of a second layer of crisp at the bottom of the dish lofted this dessert high above the same-old same-old strawberry rhubarb concoctions I had made in the past. I’m a lover of toppings and crusts, through and through, and having that extra layer of crisp, well, to paraphrase the great Liz Lemon, it’s a dealbreaker. My guests left with a newfound love of rhubarb and I went to bed envisioning the whole new world of double crisps, crumbles and cobblers that awaits me this season.

Strawberry Rhubarb Double Crisp

Strawberry Rhubarb Double Crisp
From Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the crisp mix:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of salt
Tiny pinch of ground cinnamon
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup very finely chopped crystallized ginger (see above)
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the filling:
1 pound (4 to 5 medium stalks) rhubarb, trimmed and peeled
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water
3 cups (about 12 ounces) strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put a nonreactive 9-inch square baking pan (I used porcelain) on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Put the flour, brown sugar, oats, ground ginger, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl and sift the ingredients through your fingers to blend them — be on the lookout for lumps in the brown sugar. Mix in the nuts and crystallized ginger, then pour over the melted butter. Using a fork, stir the ingredients until they are thoroughly moistened.

Spoon half the mixture into the pan and pat it down lightly to form a thick crust; set aside the remainder for the topping.
Slice the rhubarb into 1/2-inch-wide pieces and scatter them over the pressed-in base. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water; set aside.

Put the strawberries, sugar and ginger in a medium saucepan and, with a fork, pastry blender or potato masher, crush the berries. Place the pan over medium heat and, stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a full boil. Pour the dissolved cornstarch into the pan and, stirring with a whisk, bring everything back to a boil. Keep cooking and stirring until the strawberry filling is thick and no longer cloudy, about 3 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and pour the filling over the rhubarb. Scatter the remaining crisp mix over the filling, breaking it up with your fingers so you can scatter it evenly.

Slide the crisp into the oven and bake for 60 minutes, or until the topping is golden and the strawberry jam is bubbling up all around the edges. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool until only just warm or at room temperature.

Dorie wisely suggests that you can try to be neat about cutting the crisp into squares, but it’s pretty hopeless; better to cut pieces in the baking pan and lift them out with a spatula or big spoon into shallow bowls. I wholeheartedly agree. Also, it just wouldn’t be right to have this or any crisp without ice cream (just ask King H, who had to make an emergency run to the bodega mere minutes before dessert).

Note: This is best the day it is made, but if you keep it covered at room temperature overnight, you’ll make a bunch of breakfasters happy the next day. Alternatively, you can cover it and place in the fridge and re-heat in the oven for dessert the next day.

Yield: 9 servings.

Strawberry Rhubarb Double Crisp

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Strawberry Cupcakes

There are few things finer in life than spending a Friday night in the company of friends who appreciate food as much as I do. And so it was that we gathered together at Kai, drawn in to its Mayfair doors not so much by the Michelin star (well, at least some of us) or the £1 million Bugatti sitting outside, but by the delicious memory of their wasabi prawns, an appetizer that captivated each one of us at the Taste of London earlier in the summer. Suffice it to say, we were not disappointed: not only were the wasabi prawns as perfect as we remembered them, but, coupled with the ostrich and the pork and the sea bass and the soft shell crab and the lobster essence noodles and the mandarin fondant and the mango cake, it was a true feast. A feast bookended by strawberry cupcakes (as both an appetizer in The Promenade at The Dorchester beforehand, where the presence of a plastic cupcake carrier and three folks munching away while sipping gin and tonics and listening to a fancy jazz band was, I’d imagine, a first and a post-dessert dessert), made to satisfy two of my favourite food critics. These cupcakes were simple enough to put together after a long day of work, which was why they initially made the cut over a more time consuming recipe, and yet light and sweet, a perfect summer treat.  I can say, without hesitation, that I’ll be re-visiting this recipe again and again.  I can also say that I hope to be re-visiting Kai again and again, cupcake carrier in hand and the perfect culinary accomplices seated next to me.

Strawberry Cupcakes

Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes
(adapted from the Sprinkles recipe, courtesy of Martha Stewart)

For the cupcakes:

⅔ cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and ½ cup self-rising/raising flour*), sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ cup whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg whites, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.

Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about ⅓ cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

Yield: one dozen cupcakes.

For the frosting:

½ cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
Pinch of coarse salt
3 ½ cups confectioners’/icing sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners’ sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.

Yield: enough frosting for one dozen cupcakes.

* I admit the unthinkable happened in my kitchen at 10:30pm on Thursday night: I ran out of AP flour, an ingredient I usually have in endless supply. I did, however, have a stockpile of self-rising/raising flour, which immediately made me think of that other cupcake giant, Magnolia, who swears by it. Out of both necessity and a fierce love for the east coast, I ended up using about a half cup of self-rising flour and a cup of AP flour and, I have to say, was thrilled with the result. In fact, I’d probably do it this way again, even when fully stocked with AP flour and, if you’re not a Sprinkles purist, would recommend you do so, too.

Strawberry Cupcakes

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