Monday, May 9, 2011

The Best Vegetable - Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars

Things are getting exciting at the Farmer's Market. English peas, pea shoots, bright green asparagus and purple potatoes, Meyer lemons, and best of all, rhubarb.

Rhubarb is by far my favorite vegetable. It might not be a surprise to you, but it's a cousin to celery (only rhubarb is so much better than celery.)

I'm constantly searching for new recipes to use it in. Last year, I topped a piece of salmon with it. It was a nice and unexpected sweet tart contrast to the rich and buttery fish.

What follows is one of those recipes that I've been waiting a long time to make. We visited Big Sur in November of last year, and had a fantastic breakfast at the Big Sur Bakery. I poured through a copy of their cookbook over our breakfast pizza and freshly baked bread, and stopped once I turned the page to this recipe. I promptly bought the cookbook, and I've been waiting for rhubarb season in order to try these Rhubarb Brown Butter Bars. Sometimes, every single thing about a certain recipe speaks to you, and you know that there's no way the recipe can miss.

I'm happy to report that that is indeed the case with this recipe.

I adapted it slightly, substituting lemons for blood oranges. If you're not a fan of rhubarb, you could substitute raspberries, strawberries, even plums or cherries. It's totally adaptable. I made two batches of the rhubarb jam, and strained the syrup off of the first batch, to reserve for rhubarb cocktails (priorities.)

Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars
adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook

For the Jam

1 cup sugar
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
4 rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 vanilla bean

For the Crust

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups flour

For the Brown Butter Filling

3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp flour
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp butter

Begin by making the rhubarb jam. Combine the sugar, pulp of the vanilla bean and pod and lemon juice and zest in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the rhubarb, and cook over medium until the rhubarb begins to falls apart and the mixture is syrupy, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375 and start the crust.
Put a medium sized saucepan over medium-high heat and add the butter to brown it, whisking often, until the milk solids separate from the butter and it starts to smell rich and nutty. About 5 minutes. Pour into a bowl and stick in the freezer for half an hour, until solid.

Mix the powdered sugar and flour together in a medium bowl. Once the butter is solid, cut it into small cubes and mix it into the flour-sugar mixture using your hands. Combine until the mixture comes together into a crumbly dough. don't over mix. Press the dough into the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 pan. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, then bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove to cool, but leave the oven on at 375.

While the crust is cooling, make the filling. Whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, flour, and sugar and set aside. Spit and scrape the pulp and pod of the vanilla bean into a small saucepan. Add the butter and brown in the same manner as with the crust, then pour it into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Remove the vanilla pod.

Pour half of the brown butter filling over the crust. Drop spoonfuls of jam over the filling and gently spread it evenly (reserving about 1/4 of the jam). Pour the remaining brown butter filling over the jam. Using a spoon, drop small dollops of the remaining jam randomly over the top of the bars, then bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the filling puffs into a golden-brown color.

Let the pan cool completely on a wire rack, then cut into squares to serve.