nosh friday: brown butter rhubarb bars
My first memory of tasting brown butter is when I was 16. It was in a little trattoria in Florence, Italy, where the walls were covered in antique cookware and the tables were rough and set with large wickered bottles of chianti. It was the first night of my first trip to a foreign country and I felt like being adventurous, so I ordered ravioli with brown butter and sage (quite a departure from my then-standard fare of chicken fingers and fat-free ranch dressing).
Little did I know one bite would change my life. (Okay, it didn’t actually change my life but oh, sweet mercy, it was so delicious.)
When I came across this recipe in the Big Sur Bakery cookbook, the “brown butter” caught my eye and I squealed when I recalled I had a pile of rhubarb from the farmer’s market that was aching to become jam for these luscious-sounding treats. I decided to use this recipe for this week’s Nosh Friday post in honor of my upcoming trip to that area of the world (meaning Big Sur). My plans include camping there for a day or two with my friends and hunting down this bakery where I will proceed to eat everything in sight. I considered bringing my cookbook so the owners could sign it, but I think I’ll resist. (Mostly because the book is heavy and I don’t feel like schlepping it around in a dirty backpack.)
Brown Butter Rhubarb Bars
From the Big Sur Bakery Cookbook, adapted slightly
For the rhubarb jam:
1 cup sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 blood oranges (*I only had regular, so that’s what I used)
1/2 vanilla bean
4 rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
To prepare the jam, place the sugar, blood orange zest and juice into a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrap out the seeds from one half with a paring knife. Place the pulp and the pod in the saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Continue cooking until the faintest bit of caramel color starts to appear around the edges. Add the rhubarb and continue to cook, stirring with a wooden spoon until the rhubarb turns into a smooth jam, about 7 to 10 minutes. Transfer the jam (discarding the vanilla pod) to a separate dish to cool while you make the crust and filling.
For the crust:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Cook until the butter separates and the white milk solids start to brown and smell nutty, about 5 minutes. Pour the hot brown butter into a dry bowl and freeze till solid, about 30 minutes. (I would recommend lining the bowl with parchment paper or wax paper, as I had a dickens of a time getting that stupid butter out of the bowl.) Place the powdered sugar and flour in a bowl and mix to combine. Take out the frozen butter and cut it into small cubes. Mix the cubes into the flour mixture, using a pastry cutter to break up the butter until large crumbs start to form. Work the crumbs together into a crumbly dough with both hands and place it in a (GREASED) 9×13 baking dish. Press the dough firmly with the bottom of a glass to make sure the crust evenly covers the entire bottom of the dish. Chill the crust in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and when the crust is done chilling, bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown. Let it cool before assembling the bars. (Leave the oven on.)
For the brown butter filling:
1 1/4 cups sugar
Grated zest of 2 oranges (*I only used zest of 1 and would probably omit this the next time, as I found it too overpowering)
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp unsalted butter (1 stick plus 2 tbsp)
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, orange zest (or not) and flour in a medium bowl. Scrape out the other half of your vanilla bean just as you did for the jam and put the pulp and the pod in a medium saucepan along with the butter (more BUTTAH!) and melt over medium-high heat, until the butter gets brown and nutty like before. Discard the vanilla pod. Carefully add the warm brown butter mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly until all the butter is incorporated.
Assemble the bars by spreading half the brown butter mixture over the cooled crust, then dollop with the jam. Spread the remaining brown butter mixture and finish off with the remaining jam. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is deep golden brown. Cool, cut into squares and EAT!
I loved these bars — I thought they were rich and gooey and deeeeelicious. My only critique is that you could hardly taste the rhubarb at all. The next time, I think I’d half the brown butter batter (3 times fast!) and double the jam, so that they were more fruity. What can I say, I just love the rhubarb.
Eat and be joyful, pets!