Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

I can tell spring is here and summer is around the corner, because rhubarb has been all over my Instagram feed.  I’ve had bakery desserts with the red celery-like stalk, but I had never made anything with it myself.  Everyone else is doing it, so why not?  The grocery store had a crazy deal on gorgeous juicy strawberries (2 pounds for $3!) last weekend and the rhubarb looked great, so last weekend was a good a time as any to take the plunge!  It was meant to be.  I also took the opportunity to nibble on a piece of raw rhubarb because I’d only ever had it baked in a dessert.  And boy there is a reason why rhubarb isn’t served raw – my mouth puckers just thinking about the bitter tartness!

Admittedly, I bought far too much rhubarb, and ended up doing some experimenting with the extras.  I made a rhubarb puree and then combined it with a lemon bar.  I think I need to tinker with the recipe some more, because Kevin said it tasted like a Fig Newton.  It was not supposed to taste like a Fig Newton.  Also, let it be known that I am fairly certain they used rhubarb puree for the Psychomagnotheric Slime in Ghostbusters II.  It was bright pink jelly, and I of course forgot to take a photo of it.  Fortunately, no psychokinetic events took place during the making of this puree.

Making Rhubarb Puree (not for this recipe)

But I digress.

Smitten Kitchen’s social media channels have had rhubarb recipes on repeat lately, and the recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars in particular caught my eye.  I doubled the recipe for a 9″x13″ baking dish, and used less fruit in proportion to the original recipe.  You can halve the recipe for an 8″x8″ pan, but the bars will be a bit thinner.  But why would you want less of these bars??  The recipe was originally written as a one-bowl recipe, but the OCD in me kicked in and I ended up using a separate mixing bowl so that I could guarantee the crust/crisp would be mixed evenly.  Here is the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 14 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 2 TBSP granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced rhubarb (from about 3 medium stalks)
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced strawberries
  • Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal and clean-up, line bottom and two sides of 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper.

    Lets Make Some Magic!
  2. Mix together oats, flour, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for 30 to 40 minutes (firmer fruits will take longer), until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden and your kitchen smells amazing.

    Ready for the Oven
  4. Let cool in dish.* Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving with (obviously) a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Store leftovers in fridge.

    Smells Amazing

*Smitten Kitchen recommends cooling in the fridge to make sure the bars are crisp, but using less fruit than the original recipe I think kept the bars from getting soggy.  I didn’t need to chill mine!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars
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Strawberry Frosting – Without Dyes or Artificial Flavors

As a companion to the White(ish) Layer Cake, I was looking for a recipe that didn’t require food coloring or strawberry puree and came across this one at Your Cup of Cake.  This was the perfect addition to fill and cover the White(ish) Layer Cake. Recipe as follows:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pkg (1.2 oz) of freeze-dried strawberries (I got mine from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 C unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 t lemon juice, or milk
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 3 C powdered sugar, 1 C more if needed

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Dump your freeze dried strawberries into a food processor. Be sure and take out the little white packet inside, this packet keeps out any moisture but it’s not edible. Finely crush the berries in your food processor or blender.

    Trader Joe's Dehydrated Strawberries
    Trader Joe’s Dehydrated Strawberries
  2. Pour into a sifter to remove any larger chunks, and discard what doesn’t go through the sifter.

    Butter and Sifted Strawberries
    Butter and Sifted Strawberries
  3. In a stand mixer, beat sifted strawberries and butter until smooth.
  4. Add lemon juice and vanilla extract and beat again.
  5. Slowly add in powdered sugar until you reach your desired consistency. Cupcakes will need a stiffer frosting while a cake can be a little more soft. To check, I always pull out my spatula and swipe my finger through the frosting. If the frosting keeps it’s shape and doesn’t sink, you’re good to go!

I wanted to call this “Natural Strawberry Frosting”, but mother nature doesn’t freeze-dry strawberries.  It’s probably the most natural you’ll get for really colorful frosting!

To avoid writing on the cake and possibly ruining it with my not-so-great frosting script, I topped the cake with some fresh strawberries that Kevin picked up from the farmer’s market.  However, they were so juicy that they “leaked” a bit on the drive over to the potluck!  Here’s a photo of the finished cake:

Strawberry Frosting - Without Dyes or Artificial Flavors
Strawberry Frosting – Without Dyes or Artificial Flavors

This frosting will definitely be a go-to for me.  It wasn’t too sweet thanks to the lemon juice.  You can always add more lemon juice to make it more tart too!

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White(ish) Layer Cake

For Mother’s Day with Kevin’s side of the family, I wanted to make a white cake with strawberry frosting.  However, I ended up turning this into a white(ish) cake because I couldn’t bring myself to only use the egg whites that the recipe called for and waste 6 egg yolks!  After a teeny adjustment, here is the recipe as adapted by Cook’s Illustrated:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/4 C cake flour (9 ounces), plus more for dusting the pans
  • 1 Cwhole milk, at room temperature
  • 3 large eggs** (3/4 C), at room temperature
  • 2 t almond extract
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 C granulated sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
  • 4 t baking powder
  • 1 t table salt
  • 12 T unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool

**Use 6 large egg whites (3/4 C) at room temp if you want a true WHITE cake.  The yolks are what gave this cake the light yellow hue.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Set oven rack in middle position. (If oven is too small to cook both layers on a single rack, set racks in upper-middle and lower-middle positions.) Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray; line the bottoms with parchment or waxed paper rounds. Spray the paper rounds, dust the pans with flour, and invert pans and rap sharply to remove excess flour.
  2. Mix cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer at slow speed. Add butter; continue beating at slow speed until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no powdery streaks remaining.

    Moist Crumbs!
    Moist Crumbs!
  3. Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into 2-cup glass measure, and mix with fork until blended. Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to crumbs and beat at medium speed (or high speed if using handheld mixer) for 1 1/2 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk mixture and beat 30 seconds more. Stop mixer and scrape sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium (or high) speed and beat 20 seconds longer.

    Don't Over Beat
    Don’t Over Beat
  4. Divide batter evenly between two prepared cake pans; using rubber spatula, spread batter to pan walls and smooth tops. Arrange pans at least 3 inches from the oven walls and 3 inches apart. (If oven is small, place pans on separate racks in staggered fashion to allow for air circulation.)
  5. Bake until thin skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 23 to 25 minutes. Let cakes rest in pans for 3 minutes. Loosen from sides of pans with a knife, if necessary, and invert onto wire racks. Reinvert onto additional wire racks. Let cool completely, about 1 1/2 hours before frosting.

    White(ish) Layer Cake
    White(ish) Layer Cake

The strawberry frosting recipe will be coming soon, but here’s a peek at the finished product!

White(ish) Layer Cake with Strawberry Frosting
White(ish) Layer Cake with Strawberry Frosting

Easy No-Churn Strawberry Ice Cream

As a quick follow-up to the Chocolate Layer Cake with Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting, here is the recipe for the strawberry ice cream that went with it.

We got a Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment as a wedding gift, but the first few recipes I found using the attachment made mention of their attachment breaking and leaking “blue goo” as early as the first use!  I decided to try a simple recipe that didn’t require an ice cream maker.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 C cold heavy whipping cream (cold)
  • 1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk (not to be confused with evaporated milk)
  • 1 pound of fresh strawberries or thawed frozen strawberries, mashed
  • A couple drops red food coloring for a brighter pink color and few slices of strawberry for garnish (optional)

    3 Ingredients!
    3 Ingredients!

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Mash strawberries in a bowl and set aside. If using thawed frozen strawberries, drain the excess juices and water first, then mash the strawberries. If using fresh strawberries, keep the juices.
  2. In large mixing bowl of stand-mixer or in a large bowl and using an electric hand mixer, add all the ingredients: heavy whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk.
  3. Whip the heavy cream mixture on high speed until stiff peaks form (to prevent massive splattering, start out at a slower speed and as the cream thickens, increase the speed). Be careful not to over mix or “break” the whip cream mixture. For a brighter pink color, add a few drops of red food coloring into the mixture if you like.

    Whipped Mixture
    Whipped Mixture
  4. Pour the mashed strawberries into the mixture and gently fold with a spatula in until combined.
  5. Pour the whipped mixture into a freezer safe container. We like to use a bread pan. Top with a few slices of strawberries for garnish (optional). Cover and freeze for about 4-5 hours. In about 3-4 hours you can have a “soft serve” type ice cream. If you prefer a more firm texture, freeze for at least 5-6 hours or overnight.

The verdict – I froze this overnight and could definitely taste the condensed milk.  The texture was also a bit icy.  There was no way around it.  It’s great for a quick fix, but an ice cream maker would make it so much better!

Banana Split Ice Cream Cake

I recalled having Baskin-Robbins ice cream cakes on quite a few birthday celebrations for Crystal throughout the 10+ years I’ve known her.  And any time she had a chance to bring dessert to a potluck, she brought ice cream cake.  I thought it might be somewhat of a no-brainer to see if she’d want one for her birthday potluck a few weekends ago, but I wanted to make sure she’d be into it.  This is literally the conversation we had verbatim:

Allison:  hi friend, do you have room in your freezer if i made an ice cream cake for saturday?
Crystal:  hey
Allison:   or is it pretty packed?
Crystal:  OMG YES
Allison:  otherwise i can do cupcakes or something haha
Crystal:  NO we have room hahaha
Allison:  did i hit the mark? i feel like ice cream cake is your fav
Crystal:  umm it’s alright…UHHHH YA LOVE IT hahahaha
 
Off I went looking for some ideas – I didn’t want to make something you could easily buy.  I found an AMAZING-looking recipe for a Banana Split Ice Cream Cake on Brown Eyed Baker (which is the same blog I found my favorite cupcake recipe on).
 
The full recipe is a little long, so bear with me.  I didn’t include the ice cream recipes, since I used store-bought ice cream on this cake.  I don’t have an ice cream maker, but Dreyer’s Grand (not the slow-churned stuff!) has great consistency for spreading the ice cream.  I will leave the links for the sauces that I made to shorten this post a bit.  I used Brown Eyed Baker’s strawberry and pineapple sauce recipe, but I used Food Network’s Tyler Florence’s version for the chocolate sauce (I generally just don’t like using corn syrup).
 
Since we were expecting 25 people at the potluck, I made two cakes in a 9×3 springform pan and a small loaf tin for the second cake, using 1.5 the amount of the suggested ingredients.  This ended up being a 5-day process, given my day job.  I got nervous the ice cream would freezer burn being out that long, as I’ve had frequent freezer burn problems with my freezer.  After lots of Googling, I found that using parchment paper helps prevent it.  Each time I finished a layer that would be in the freezer overnight or while I was at work, I cut out a 9″ round piece of parchment paper to keep in contact with the top layer of ice cream or sauce.  This recipe is just for one 8×3 inch springform pan’s worth of awesomeness.
 
INGREDIENTS:
For the Crust:
  • 20 Oreo cookies, crushed into crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 to 3 bananas, sliced ½-inch thick

For the Strawberry Layer:

For the Chocolate Layer:

  • 1 pint chocolate ice cream
  • 1 cup hot fudge sauce, at room temperature (make sure it’s a pourable consistency, warm briefly if necessary)

For the Vanilla Layer:

For the Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

To Garnish:

  • Maraschino cherries
  • Chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

1. Spray an 8×3-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides with parchment paper; set aside.

2. Assemble the Crust: Combine the Oreo cookie crumbs with the melted butter, tossing until all of the crumbs are evenly moistened. Press into an even layer in the bottom of the prepared pan. Top with the banana slices. Place the pan in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.

Crust and Banana Layer
Crust and Banana Layer

3. Assemble the Strawberry Layer: Top the banana layer with the strawberry ice cream. Use an offset spatula (or the back of a giant spoon) to spread the ice cream into a smooth, even layer. Place the pan back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Laying Down the Strawberry Ice Cream
Laying Down the Strawberry Ice Cream

4. Pour the strawberry topping over the strawberry ice cream and gently spread so that it covers the entire ice cream layer beneath. Return to the freezer for at least 1 hour, or until completely frozen. This is where I took a break and froze the cake overnight, so I put a layer of parchment paper down to prevent freezer burn.

Parchment Paper - My BFF
Parchment Paper – My BFF

5. Assemble the Chocolate Layer: Top the strawberry layer with the chocolate ice cream. Use an offset spatula to spread the ice cream into a smooth, even layer. Place the pan back in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, or until firm and set.

Laying Down the Chocolate Ice Cream Layer
Laying Down the Chocolate Ice Cream Layer

6. Pour the hot fudge sauce over the chocolate ice cream and gently spread so that it covers the entire ice cream layer beneath. Return to the freezer for at least 1 hour, or until completely frozen.

7. Assemble the Vanilla Layer: Top the hot fudge layer with the vanilla ice cream. Use an offset spatula to spread the ice cream into a smooth, even layer. Cover with plastic wrap, return the assembled cake to the freezer and freeze overnight. Don’t forget the layer of parchment paper!

Main Part of the Cake - All Done!
Main Part of the Cake – All Done!

8. Final Assembly and Garnishment: At least 1 hour (and no more than 12 hours) before serving, unmold the cake. To release the cake from the pan, invert the cake onto a plate or cardboard round the same size and wrap a hot kitchen towel around the cake pan, keeping it there for 30 seconds, or until the cake loosens and slide the pan off.

Place Plate on the Top Side of Cake
Place Plate on the Top Side of Cake

Remove the parchment (and bottom of pan if using a springform). Top with a serving plate and turn the cake right side up. Return to the freezer for at least 10 minutes.

Flip and Place Cake Board on the Bottom Side of Cake
Flip and Place Cake Board on the Bottom Side of Cake

9. While the cake is in the freezer, make the whipped cream. Combine the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the cream is light and fluffy and holds a medium to firm peak, 2 to 3 minutes.

Whip it Good!
Whip it Good!

10. Just prior to serving, pipe the whipped cream into mounds around the outer edge of the cake, making sure the mounds touch so that no pineapple sauce leaks down the top. Place a maraschino cherry on top of each whipped cream mound.

Pipe Whipped Cream Around Perimeter of Cake
Pipe Whipped Cream Around Perimeter of Cake

11. Fill in the space in the middle with the pineapple topping and top with chopped walnuts. A hot, dry knife will yield the cleanest cuts. Dip your knife in a glass of hot water, wipe it clean with a towel, and cut a slice. Repeat between every slice. Store leftover slices in airtight containers (or covered with parchment paper and foil) in the freezer.

Pretty Please with a Cherry on Top!
Pretty Please with a Cherry on Top!

Note: If you are making homemade ice cream, your best bet is to time the assembly so that you can add the freshly-churned ice cream right onto the cake. It will be the perfect consistency. If you will be using already-made ice cream, put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before you plan to need it and then mix it really well with a spatula so that it is smooth and spreadable.

Layers of a Banana Split!
Layers of a Banana Split!

After work the day before the BBQ, I pulled the cake out of the freezer to check on it and saw this:

NOOOOOOO
NOOOOOOO

My dad had accidentally left two heavy WARM ice packs on top of the parchment paper layer of cake the night before, and the packs had melted the already soft ice cream and pushed it down, causing the top layer to get a little foamy and spill out the sides of the pan.  My 4 days of work leading up to that had been ruined.  I could only think of one thing to say, but it was already too late.  After a good hour of wanting to take a wrecking ball to my kitchen, I calmed down tried to figure out how to salvage the cake.  I re-froze the cake, and then scraped off as much as I could of the vanilla layer without breaking the chocolate sauce layer.  I put another layer of parchment paper down and froze it for a few hours.   I reapplied the vanilla ice cream layer, put another layer of parchment down and froze it overnight.  The next morning, I made the whipped cream and piped it on to the cake, and filled the top with the pineapple sauce.

Banana Split Ice Cream Cake
Banana Split Ice Cream Cake

The cake layers definitely weren’t as perfect as I had hoped, but there was no time to start the cake over.  Thankfully, Sho-Yu is definitely not a crowd to judge based on appearances as we tend to just inhale sweets however imperfect they may look.

Happy Birthday, Crystal!
Happy Birthday, Crystal!

I do think Crystal was a happy camper with the cake, and there were no leftovers which is always a good sign.