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With the glut of seriously delicious summer fruit hitting market stands right now — or very very soon — I’m looking forward to all of the pies, tarts, crisps, crumbles, grunts, cobblers, cakes, and buckles coming my way. Buckle up, as the kids say. Things are about to get really, really good around here.
The first fruit (though technically a vegetable) to come my way is rhubarb, of course. In the far right corner of my very large yard, two rhubarb plants take up residence. Watching them slowly unfurl from the ground is my favourite harbinger of spring.
As soon as the rhubarb is ready, I’m out there plucking it from the ground and rinsing it off with the garden hose. The poisonous leaves get discarded, and the stalks are chopped for whatever baked goods tickle my fancy. It’s the plant that keeps on giving, and I’m fortunate to have two so generous. Rhubarb comes in all sorts of shades of pink, red and green. If you’re blessed with the deep red variety, which to me is the perfect shade of lipstick, then you are one lucky duck and I’m super jealous as mine is closer to pink. But whatever the shade you prefer, for those of us who appreciate the pie plant and all that it has to offer in the way of baking, this is prime rhubarb time.
Like Mulder and Scully, Tina and Amy, and Chandler and Joey, strawberry and rhubarb are the best of friends. The sweet/tart combination is a classic for good reason. Like any good friendship, they bring out the best in each other.
To highlight their deliciousness, I combined the fruit in a simple buckle. What is a buckle? It’s a moist fruit cake that has a streusel topping that buckles when it bakes. And, just like a crumble or crisp, it’s just as simple to make. The ricotta cheese ensures a moist, tender crumb, but sour cream could be used instead.
To add another layer of flavour, I used rye flour as well as all-purpose. Rye is an aromatic whole grain with a malty, nutty flavour that is so good in baked goods. It lends itself well to cherries and other stone fruits as well as rhubarb, and most definitely chocolate. I buy small amounts at bulk stores, just to keep the flour as fresh as possible.
The other slightly unusual thing I did was use olive oil in the streusel topping instead of butter. It’s the finishing touch on a cake that has a whole lot of texture and flavour. I used my trusty cast iron skillet for the bake, but you could use any 10-inch baking dish — just be sure the sides are high enough. This is a dessert best served warm, with a dollop or two of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. It’s the beginning of wonderful delicious things to come and I’m ever so grateful for it.
Strawberry Rhubarb Ricotta Buckle
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup rye flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 lb hulled and sliced strawberries
1/2 lb rhubarb, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a 10-inch skillet or baking dish.
2. Make the crumble topping: In a small bowl, combine the flours, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and almonds. Drizzle in the olive oil. Stir to thoroughly moisten the crumbs. You’re looking for some small and large clumps. Place the bowl in the freezer while you work on the remaining portion of the recipe.
3. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour to salt). In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the ricotta, canola oil, olive oil, lemon juice and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and, using a spatula, stir just until combined.
4. Scrape the batter into the prepared skillet. Arrange the fruit evenly and snugly over the top. Press the fruit down into the batter so you just see the tops. Remove the crumble from the freezer and scatter it evenly over the fruit.
5. Bake until the cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, about 45-55 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean.
6. Let the buckle cool in the skillet for about 30 minutes then serve warm or at room temperature. Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream is an excellent accompaniment.
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