Sunday, January 26, 2014

Recipe of the Month: Rhubarb Bread

Last year, as you may recall, I made a resolution to try one new fruit or vegetable each month and discuss it here on the blog. In December, I evaluated the results of that resolution and concluded that it hadn't exactly been a rousing success: while I did achieve my goal of trying twelve new fruits and veggies, not one of them actually went on to become a regular part of my diet. So for 2014, I decided to tackle the eat-more-veggies problem from a different angle: instead of trying a new veggie or fruit each month, I'd try a new recipe featuring a veggie or fruit—either a new one or an old familiar favorite served in a new way. That way, I could still expand my horizons produce-wise without having to go out of my way to seek out unfamiliar foods (which might not be local or seasonal).

To kick off this new resolution, I requested rhubarb bread as my birthday cake this year. This recipe came from our new book, Grocery Gardening, which we picked up on our annual December outing to Half Price Books in Indianapolis. In fact, this recipe was the first one I spotted when I picked up the book in the store, and it was probably the main reason I ended up buying it. Although it's called a "bread," it's actually much closer to a cake in texture and sweetness, similar to zucchini bread or pumpkin bread. And, like those perennial favorites, it starts out with a healthful ingredient and turns it into something much more decadent by piling lots of sugar, flour, and oil on top of it. Actually, the oil in this recipe isn't so bad (two-thirds of a cup for two loaves), but the sugar is another story; this recipe actually uses as much sugar as a rhubarb pie, with only half the amount of rhubarb.

I don't want to tread on the toes of Jean Ann Van Krevlen, the author of Grocery Gardening, by repeating her recipe here, but I can give you the gist of it: You make the batter from flour, milk, oil, an egg, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange zest, and vanilla. Then you fold in chopped rhubarb and chopped walnuts, pour it into loaf pans, and sprinkle it with a streusel topping made from more brown sugar mixed with butter and cinnamon. The recipe said to bake the two loaves at 325 for 40 minutes, but actually it took over an hour for ours to pass the toothpick test, and both loaves still ended up with a slightly gooey bit in the very middle (possibly a result of the rhubarb de-juicing). So if we had this to do over, we'd probably halve the recipe and bake two smaller loaves so that they'd cook faster.

The final result was certainly good, but it didn't really taste, well, rhubarby. A rhubarb pie or crisp has a distinctive, mouth-watering flavor that comes from the tartness of the rhubarb balanced out by the sweetness of the sugar, and this recipe didn't really have that. It was more like a generic fruit cake; you could easily have substituted any other kind of fruit for the rhubarb without changing the flavor all that much. The texture was a bit odd, too; unlike pumpkin bread and zucchini bread, which usually cook up firm and moist, this rhubarb bread came out rather crumbly. When we tried to cut a slice of it, we were liable to end up with a sort of jagged lump instead. Trying to eat it like a bread generally resulted in large crumbs spilling all over my lap. After my first piece, I decided it made more sense to eat it out of a bowl with a fork—and from there, it was a natural step to topping it with whipped cream, which made it still tastier, but did nothing to improve its nutritional value.

Although we both liked this bread, I doubt we'll be making it on a regular basis. Given the amount of sugar it contains, it's not really something we should be eating often, and if we're going to indulge in a decadent rhubarb dessert, I'd prefer one that has more rhubarb flavor. We might try it again some time with some minor modifications to see if we can improve the texture (and possibly perk up the flavor), but on the whole, I think there are better uses for our limited rhubarb supply. (I can't say this experiment makes me terribly optimistic about the other recipes in our new book, either—but I plan to try at least a couple more of them before passing judgment.)
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