You have to pardon me because I’m going to go ahead and be an old lady and talk about the weather. I may even talk about it a whole lot. You see, somehow in my years away from here I had sort of forgotten that Northern Minnesota is pretty much the tundra.
I am not exaggerating when I say that we are just starting to get leaves coming out on the trees here. Just in the past few days.
Admittedly, we’re having a slower than usual spring here, but it’s bringing back all my memories of how it is not uncommon to need to wear your fleece or even a parka on some days in June. I feel like there aren’t many other places outside of the arctic circle that are like that.
Midweek last week we had a day where it was both sunny and above 60 degrees Fahrenheit out. Party time! We just may have dropped everything for that afternoon and spent it planting vegetable seedlings in the raised beds that we built over Memorial Day weekend. (Our backyard is otherwise largely taken up by a concrete slab that was once a basketball court. Because we don’t play basketball or tennis or regularly host concrete slab dance parties, we figured covering it with raised beds, plus a fire pit and a picnic table, would be a better use of space.)
As bad luck would have it, we then had severe thunderstorms with quarter-sized hail two days later. It may have been the hormones, but I definitely cried as I watched our poor little vegetable babies getting pummeled by chunks of falling ice. Amazingly, most of them seem like they’ll recover with some good care. Though in the handful of days since we’ve also had to cover them because it’s gotten down to freezing at night. This is decidedly not the agricultural part of Minnesota. You can make it work, but you’ll really have to work for it.
I don’t want to brag, but it’s been back in the 60s and sunny both yesterday and today again. Oh yeah. Luxury. And in spite of the cold, the torrential rains, the hail, and general neglect, the rhubarb plants growing in the far corner of our backyard are coming into their own and reaching a size for harvesting.
When we moved in last fall, I could tell there was at least one rhubarb plant in the scrubby patch along our garage, and I’ve waited eagerly all winter to see how much it would produce. It turns out it isn’t just one but three, and I am wildly excited. As I’ve mentioned before, I love rhubarb. It’s been painful to see all the recipes for rhubarb proliferating across blogs and magazines earlier this spring, while every day checking our own rhubarb and grudgingly deeming it far too tiny to cut from. I even cracked and bought some rhubarb from the grocery store to make a rhubarb cake because I couldn’t stand the wait.
But now, as everyone else seems to be passing rhubarb, asparagus, and ramps for strawberries, apricots, and even cherry tomatoes, we can finally cook with rhubarb (and the ramps are going crazy in the woods! You can’t walk the dog without tripping over a patch or 10.). And believe me, I will.
These decadent little morsels are the first thing I’ve made so far. I meant to start with another rhubarb cake, or maybe a buckle, but then I thought of crisp, and somehow my mind went from rhubarb crisp to rhubarb ice cream. And then to semifreddo because, well, I guess, whose thoughts don’t turn on occasion to semifreddo when they are thinking about creamy frozen treats? And while I was at it, why not try making them into semifreddo ice cream sandwiches? Seriously, why not?! Ice cream sandwiches (and malts too, but let’s focus on the sammies) are my ultimate in summertime treat-dom, the sort of special summery treat I save for but once a year, and if there’s anything we need to urge onward a little here, it’s summertime.
The debate then became, what would be the best kind of cookie to use? I immediately thought shortbread, which quickly morphed into oatmeal cookies or oatmeal shortbread, to mimic the effect of an oatmeal topping on a rhubarb crisp. But Joel didn’t buy it. He argued for chewy ginger cookies, however I couldn’t get on board with the molasses element. So, I decided to compromise and concoct a cookie that had spicy chunks of ginger in it, but weren’t molasses spice cookies. These cookies instead get deep, almost toffee flavor, from brown butter, which is offset by a light saltiness from choosing butter that’s salted. The chewy pockets of ginger are warm and complex. They make the cookies taste like they have more spice than just ginger, while keeping the flavors unmuddied by actual extra spices.
The rhubarb semifreddo in between the cookies is creamy, obviously, but creamy in almost a different realm than the creamy you may expect. Creamy like living on a pastoral dairy farm, creamy. But not too heavy either because you make a custard whipped full of air, lock in more air by folding in whipped cream, and then suspend it all in time by putting it in the freezer. The ribbons of rhubarb sauce are tart and refreshing, a little sorbet personality woven in with all that cream.
The lineup of creamy, fruity, tart against chewy, caramel-y ginger cookie we thought was perfect. They’re messy, unweildy, and hard to eat, and also delightfully hard to stop eating. Except that you can wrap them up in foil, little individual ice cream sandwich packets, to keep frozen for later. So, we’ll see if we can make them last until summer finally does come to this tundra.
- Rhubarb Semifreddo:
- 1 lb. rhubarb stalks, washed and chopped into ½ inch slices
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 3 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- ½ cup mascarpone (optional, you can also replace the mascarpone with more heavy cream)
- Brown butter ginger cookies:
- 10 Tbs. (1¼ sticks) salted butter
- 1¾ cups brown sugar
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. baking powder
- ½ cup finely chopped candied ginger
- Combine the rhubarb with ⅓ cup sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat, then uncover and cook over medium-low heat until the rhubarb is soft and completely falls apart into a sauce when you stir it, about 12 minutes. Allow this rhubarb sauce to cool to room temperature.
- Combine the remaining sugar with the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla in a metal bowl. Set the bowl over simmering water and using a handheld mixer, beat this mixture at medium-high speed until it is thick and pale, 6-8 minutes.
- Remove the whipped custard from the heat and continue to beat it with the handheld mixer for another 6-8 minutes, until it has cooled to room temperature.
- In a separate bowl, whip the cream and mascarpone (or just cream) to stiff peaks. Gently fold the custard mixture into the whipped cream in three portions until fully combined. Then, gently fold in the rhubarb sauce until it is partially mixed in – there should still be streaks, the mixture doesn’t need to be uniform. Transfer this mixture to a 2-quart (or so) container, lightly press plastic wrap onto the surface to cover and freeze until completely frozen, about 6 hours (or overnight).
- To make the cookies, put the butter into a heavy bottomed saucepan and melt it over medium high heat. Continue to cook it, stirring frequently, until it has browned and smells nutty, about 6 or 7 minutes (it will foam a bunch in the process, which is fine, just keep stirring). Scrape the butter (making sure to get all the brown sediment) into a mixing bowl to cool down to room temperature.
- Heat your oven to 350F. Once the butter is cool, stir in the brown sugar, salt, and vanilla extract until well combined. Then, stir in the eggs until just combined, the mixture won’t look smooth, but you don’t want to overmix.
- In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and candied ginger. Stir these dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until they just come together.
- Form the cookie dough into 24 equal sized balls – I think they were about 1 ½ Tbs. each – and put them onto two baking sheets. Press each cookie flat (I found my cookies really didn’t spread at all during baking – though in a more humid environment they may because the dough would be moister - so I had to smoosh them down to the proper thickness).
- Bake each sheet of cookies in the oven until they just barely start to get done, about 8 minutes. You want them to be fairly undercooked so they stay chewy. Transfer to a cooling rack.
- If you want to eat your ice cream sandwiches all immediately (a highly recommended way of eating ice cream sandwiches!), take out the semifreddo and let everyone scoop a big scoop of semifreddo out and smash it in between two still somewhat warm cookies and chow down. To assemble the sandwiches and save for later, allow the cookies to cool to room temperature. Take out the semifreddo and allow it to soften just enough to scoop well. Sandwich a generous scoop between two cookies, press together lightly, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place back in the freezer to harden. Repeat with all of the cookies (you’ll have some semifreddo leftover – yum!) to make 12 sandwiches. Keep them tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to a couple of weeks.