BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pretty in Pink

May the record show that despite previous protestation, I honestly do have nothing against the union of strawberry and rhubarb. They’re a great couple who seem genuinely happy together, so who am I to break them up? Sure, it wouldn’t hurt for either to have a bit more alone time, maybe see a few other people on the side, but I won’t begrudge their magnetism to each other. Rather, it might be wiser to invite a new ingredient or two to the party in order to liven up the typical date night.

White chocolate cheesecake is the ideal sweet compliment to their tart, fruity flavor. Flecked with vanilla bean, lusciously rich and creamy, it seemed a shame to bake that base into a solid brick, so a simple parfait was in order. Crunchy graham cracker streusel makes up the base, lightly spiced with a touch of warm, comforting cinnamon, immediately followed by the rhubarb compote, infused with cardamom, ginger, and a hint of zesty orange. The real star of the show, the white chocolate cheesecake mousse, comes together in a snap, and is decadent enough to go well with just about any fruit or cookie combo. A dice of fresh strawberries on top keeps things light and refreshing, but it’s hard to resist one final flourish of mousse to top it all off.

It’s spring in a glass, complete with those star-crossed lovers strawberry and rhubarb, a delicious duo if there ever was one.

Spring Cheesecake Parfaits

Graham Cracker Streusel:

9 Rectangle Graham Crackers (1 Sleeve)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Rhubarb Compote:

1 1/2 Pounds Chopped Rhubarb, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom

White Chocolate Cheesecake Mousse:

6 Ounces Vegan White Chocolate, Homemade Chunks or Store-Bought Chips
1/4 Cup Vegan “Creamer”
2 8-Ounce Packages Vegan “Cream Cheese”
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract*
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 – 1 Pound Fresh Strawberries, Hulled and Diced

*I used my homemade white chocolate, which is what gave it those lovely vanilla bean specks. If you opt for the store-bought alternative, you may wish to use vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped, for the same visual effect.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silpat; set aside.

Break up the graham crackers and toss the pieces into your food processor. Pulse until mostly broken down, with a few larger chunks remaining. Add in the melted margarine, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse to combine. Spread out the resulting crumbs into small clumps on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, you can get the compote started. Set a medium saucepan on the stove over moderate heat, and mix together 1 pound of the rhubarb along with the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and let the rhubarb stew for 10 – 15 minutes, until broken down and jammy. Add in the remaining measure of rhubarb, and simmer for an additional 5 – 10 minutes, just until tender. This will give the compote a nice variety of textures. Let cool and chill thoroughly before using.

Finally, for the cheesecake portion, place the chunks of chips of white chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, and pour the “creamer” on top. Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each heating. White chocolate can be stubborn about melting, so be patient and keep a close eye on the mixture so that it doesn’t burn. Once it’s burnt, there’s no fixing it.

Place the “cream cheese,” vanilla extract, and salt in your (washed and dried) food processor, and blend to combine. Pour in the melted white chocolate, and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. If it seems to loose to pipe, chill for 30 minutes before proceeding.

To assemble your parfaits, find 6 – 8 matching glasses, and start with a spoonful or two of the streusel at the bottom. Top that with a good layer of the compote, and then pipe or spoon over a layer of the cheesecake mousse. Cover that with an even layer of diced strawberries, and if desired, finish with one final dollop of mousse. Garnish with halved strawberries and mint leaves for extra flair. Serve chilled.

Makes 6 – 8 Parfaits

Printable Recipe


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Rah, Rah, Rhubarb!

If rhubarb were playing on a team, would anyone actually cheer for it? A sad, unloved vegetable with an identity crisis, rhubarb is always paired up with the show-stealing strawberry, smothered by sweetness, and thrown into the game more as an afterthought than a star. You’d think that after years of strawberry-rhubarb pies and strawberry-rhubarb crumbles, more bakers would take a chance on letting the red stalks stand alone for once, but no, perish the thought! Rhubarb is bitter, unpalatable, and unable to carry a proper dessert without help from something more flavorful. In fact, this silent player is hardly even a staple for standard grocery stores. Upon asking a produce department worker if they had any early season rhubarb yet, I was looked at as if I had requested a vegan angel food cake. Forget about having never heard of it, this person (who specializes in fresh fruits and vegetables, mind you) couldn’t even decipher what I was saying. Rubbage? Rubar? Well, I’ll take that as a “no,” then.

But rhubarb isn’t some awful ingredient to be either avoided or covered up, like an embarrassing pet stain on the living room carpet. When treated with respect, it makes for perfectly delicious desserts, as is evidenced by these bright, springy cupcakes. Luck would have it that I eventually found a bag of frozen rhubarb, of all things, and so I set right to work redeeming this misunderstood plant.

Topped off with a simple vanilla bean frosting so as not to take over and cover that delicate rhubarb flavor, these little numbers are further beautified by candied violets. Incredibly hard to find and even harder to transport intact, I had been saving up these precious edibles for quite some time now, so it’s a good thing they’re well-preserved by sugar. Such an ornate garnish is far from necessary though- The rhubarb really does sell these treats all by itself.

Rhubarb Cupcakes

2 Cups Chopped Rhubarb, Fresh or Frozen and Thawed
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/3 Cup Canola Oil
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Bean Frosting:

1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and line 14 cupcake tins with decorative papers. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the rhubarb, sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Let stew, stirring periodically, for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the rhubarb becomes so tender that it pretty much falls apart. If necessary, mash it lightly with your spatula to help it break down. Allow the rhubarb to cool for 15 minute before proceeding.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda. Stir the orange juice, oil, and vanilla into the rhubarb mixture, and then add all of those liquids into the bowl of flour. Stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together smoothly; a few small lumps remaining are no reason for alarm. Just be sure not to over-mix, or you’ll create a tough cake.

Dole out the batter equally between your prepared cupcake tins, and slide them into the oven. Bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Let cool completely before applying the frosting.

For the frosting, throw room temperature margarine into your mixer, and beat thoroughly until softened. Add in the confectioner’s sugar and start mixing on a low speed to prevent the dry goods from flying out of the work bowl. Add in the vanilla paste or extract, and slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, until the frosting reaches a smooth but still firm consistency. Whip on high speed for about 5 minutes until fluffy. Pipe or spread on cupcakes as desired.

Makes 14 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe

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