Sunday, July 3, 2011

What the Heck is Rhubarb... Cupcakes

Have you ever tried a rhubarb cupcake? Scratch that... have you ever heard of a rhubarb cupcake? Me neither, but Martha has. She even has a recipe for them in her cookbook. I was not excited about this rhubarb cupcake recipe (unfortunately Martha's website does not have the recipe, but if you want it just let me know and I'd be happy to send it), not even a little bit. I know nothing about rhubarb except that it looks like pink celery. I like pink, but I don't like celery... it's the strings. I've never tasted rhubarb, I've never cooked with it, I've never even touched it. I have walked past it in the grocery store on numerous occasions, but that's the extent of my relationship with rhubarb... until today. Today, I got up close and personal with rhubarb. We took our relationship to a whole new level. If you want to take your relationship with rhubarb to a whole new level you can make these cupcakes, or click here.

My grocery store doesn't have a wide selection of rhubarb. In fact when I purchased the necessary amount of rhubarb for this recipe (3/4 pound) I wiped out their supply. Hopefully no one else was planning on making anything with rhubarb tonight. I stood for a few minutes just staring at the rhubarb and thinking that it wasn't the best selection. I don't really know what constitutes good rhubarb, we've already covered my lack of knowledge on the subject, but this rhubarb was rubbery and looked a little beaten up. I wasn't going to drive all over town looking for rhubarb. I probably wouldn't have found any anyway. So, I took what I thought I needed and was on my way.

I got my rhubarb home, washed it (I don't know if I was supposed to do that, but it felt like the right thing) and started to dice. I knew right away that I wasn't going to have enough. I was right (yeah me!). Instead of getting the 3 cups the recipe called for, I ended up with 2. I wasn't heartbroken. I figured less rhubarb in the cupcakes couldn't be a bad thing, especially if I didn't know if I would like them. Instead of putting 2 cups of diced rhubarb in the batter like the recipe called for, I just put in 1. I reserved the remaining cup for the syrup that would top the cupcakes later. I thought about putting more than 1 cup into the batter, but I didn't want to compromise the amount of rhubarb I would need for the syrup for the cupcakes.

I baked the first batch of cupcakes for 24 (Martha said about 25) minutes, turning them halfway through the baking process. I probably could have taken off a little baking time. They came out a little more golden than I normally like, but overall they were fine. I let them cool for a few minutes in the pan on a cooling rack before I removed them. Once the next batch was safely baking in the oven I performed my first taste test sans any topping. I wanted to try them when they were still a little bit warm. I thought it might enhance the taste so I would hate it less. I was apprehensive to say the least, but I was pleasantly surprised. They weren't horrible. In fact they were pretty good. The crunchy rhubarb that went into the batter, came out soft and had a very nice flavor to it. The rhubarb turned to a lovely pink color and the cupcakes were nice and soft.

Then came the rhubarb syrup. It was relatively easy to make, the hardest part was being patient and letting it cool before I could proceed. Luckily I kept myself occupied with making the whipped cream that would accompany the rhubarb syrup on top of the cupcakes. However, making the whipped cream took up almost no time, my stand mixer did all the work. That thing is amazing... gotta love the whisk attachment. After the whipped cream was prepared I put it in a Ziplock bag, placed it in the fridge to keep cool and got back to my rhubarb syrup.

After my rhubarb was done boiling, then cooling to room temperature, then simmering, then cooling again I was ready to "decorate". Martha put a dollop of whipped cream on the cupcake, but since my whipped cream was stored in a Ziplock I just cut a hole in the corner of the bag and piped the whipped cream onto the cupcake. I thought it looked nicer than a dollop. Lastly I put a spoonful of the rhubarb syrup on top of the whipped cream. The final result was a thing of beauty, maybe even museum worthy. My favorite part was the little beads of vanilla (from the vanilla bean) that you can see in the syrup.

Overall this cupcake is my favorite so far, simply because of how pretty it looks once it's completed. There's a lot to be said for a nice presentation. On Iron Chef America presentation is worth 10 points (I think). The fact that it's also very tasty isn't hurting its cause either. But, no matter how pretty (and yummy) the cupcakes were, it was difficult to get rid of them. For some reason people just don't come running when they're offered rhubarb cupcakes. I can't imagine why.