The rhubarb bars they didn’t want you to try*
My farmer’s market has two bake-offs each summer – rhubarb in June and apple in September. On bake-off day, you bring in 60 servings of your creation to the market, and then people can pay $5 to try one of each entry and vote for their favorite. Last year I entered the apple one and had a ton of fun trying to figure out a recipe and baking different versions. Didn’t win, but enjoyed it so much I promised myself I’d try again this year.
I started early trying to figure out what to do with rhubarb. I originally thought I wanted to do a rhubarb shortcake, but I realized early on that it wouldn’t hold up well to sitting out for a couple of hours at a farmer’s market (plus, it turns out I wouldn’t have been able to serve it with whipped cream). So I started playing around with a rhubarb cheese cake bar. I baked a lot of cheese cake bars and experimented with the proportions and crust and other things and fed many friends, neighbors and co-workers the results. And I finally got to something I really liked: a creamy cheese cake bar with a whole lot of tart rhubarb. Plus, it’s kind of pretty:
Then, the day before the farmer’s market (thankfully before I’d started baking), I got the call. The call saying that my entry wouldn’t be allowed. It’s not shelf-stable, which means the health department won’t let them serve it. Which, now that I think about it, I feel super silly about not realizing. It was in the rules, but I read it as saying that you shouldn’t enter something that you would want to stay refrigerated – I had even tested to make sure they would hold up after a few hours un-refrigerated and they were fine. I do totally get why the rule is in place, though, and it’s totally my fault for not paying closer attention to the rules. Still, I’m a little bummed that I didn’t get to enter.
But I can still share the recipe here. It’s a little bit involved, but wasn’t actually too hard, especially if you do the rhubarb part ahead of time. Oh, and one of my problems was that I couldn’t come up with a good name for these, but now that they were disqualified, I present…
Illegal Rhubarb Bars
(* The title of this post and the name for the bars should be seen as poking fun at myself and mocking the silly overly-sensationalistic titles of click-bait articles — other options included: “This woman tried to enter a bake-off, you’ll never guess what happened next” or “Check out this recipe, at step 4 you’ll start smiling, by step 8, you’ll be amazed” or “What secret ingredient got these rhubarb bars banned from the farmer’s market?“. I hold absolutely no hard feelings towards our farmer’s market, which I love.)
Makes 1 9×13 pan, which you can cut into 32 bars (or even more, if you want to cut them super small like I did)
- 2 pounds of rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. Make sure you removed all leaves.
- 1/3 cup of honey
- dash of salt
- 1 Tbsp corn starch
- 1 Tbsp cold water
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 3/4 cup white flour
** I imagine that you could probably make the cheese cake bars gluten-free if you made the crust with either 1/2 cup butter and 1 1/2 cups of crumbs of your favorite gluten-free shortbread cookie, or possibly even replacing the flour with ground nuts like almonds or pecans
- 16 oz (2 packages) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla or seeds from half of a vanilla bean
- 1 Tbsp corn starch
The rhubarb – you can make this way ahead of time.
- Heat the oven to 400° F.
- Toss the rhubarb pieces, honey, and salt into a 9×13 baking dish. Let it sit for 30 minutes and then stir.
- Cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender. Stir one time half way through.
- Place a colander over a medium bowl and pour the rhubarb and juice into the colander. Let the juice drain for about 10 – 20 minutes. Set the baked rhubarb to the side, it will probably have totally fallen apart and be kind of a thick rhubarb paste, that’s totally fine.
- Mix the corn starch and cold water in a small bowl.
- Pour the juice into a pan and put it on the stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
- Once the juice is boiling, take it off the heat and whisk in the corn starch and water.
- Put the juice back on the stove and cook for another minute while whisking.
- Ok, now here’s the kind of weird part: Take about 4 Tbsp of the juice that you just made and mix it in with the rhubarb paste. Now take about 2 Tbsp of the paste and mix it in to the juice. So you’ll have two things: a thickened juice with some pieces of rhubarb, and a thick paste of rhubarb (with a little bit of juice mixed back in).
- If you made this a day or two ahead of time, store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
For the crust
- Heat the oven to 350° F. Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper (aluminum foil would probably also work, I tried just greasing the pan with cooking spray, and it worked but it was hard getting the bars out.
- Mix the butter, sugar, and flours until combined. It won’t hold together like dough, it’ll be more like crumbs.
- Press the mixture onto the bottom of the pan. Maybe 1/8 – 1/4 of an inch thick. You will have some left over mixture.
- Bake for 10 minutes. It shouldn’t really change color.
- Remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes.
For the cheesecake
- Turn the oven down to 325° F.
- Mix the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth. I had to do a lot of scraping the bowl with a spatula to get it all mixed together.
- Add the eggs one at a time and mix together.
- Add the cream.
- Take 1/4 cup of the cheese cake batter and mix it together with the thickened rhubarb juice and set aside.
- Add the cornstarch and vanilla to the rest of the (non-rhubarb) cheesecake batter and stir.
Assembling the bars
- Spread the rhubarb paste (there has to be a better name for this) evenly over the top of the crust.
- Pour the vanilla cheese cake batter over the rhubarb and use a spatula to spread it evenly.
- Carefully pour the rhubarb cheese cake batter in two long lines down the middle of the pan. Use a knife or spoon to artfully swirl the two batters so they look pretty. (I am not good at this).
- Bake for 45-55 minutes. The top should be set and if you have an instant read thermometer, the batter in the middle of the pan should be 180° F.
- Remove and let the pan cool for 30 minutes.
- Place the pan in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, overnight is even better. (You have to do this, or else you’ll have to eat these with a spoon. Which wouldn’t actually be such a bad thing.)
- Cut into squares and serve (but not at the farmer’s market).
- Since I don’t need a full pan sitting in my refrigerator, I cut mine tiny and then put them on a tray and froze them. They’re pretty good frozen, too.
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