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Ugh. I know the title of this post is vague, perhaps even meaningless, but I just do not know what to call the marvelous dessert I created. I toyed with labeling it “deconstructed strawberry-rhubarb pie” or “wherein the cook makes a variation of shortcake…”, but both are too pretentious and bring to mind cooking challenge shows on cable networks and the requisite forty-two component desserts on chilled white plates, and I would probably have to use liquid nitrogen, which I don’t have… So those are out. Then, I thought I would call it “warm strawberry-rhubarb compote with Irish butter shortbread and cardamom cream”– but that is just too long for a title. However, it is accurate. This combination is magical, and so, in the interest of brevity, I will call this dessert Strawberry-Rhubarb Magic forevermore.

I have to give credit to my friend CJ for sharing a link to this recipe from Lottie + Doof, giving me the idea of using cardamom cream in my dessert. I originally planned to make that exact, delicious-sounding fool recipe, but also wanted to make my own compote (I have had it in mind for weeks); ultimately I decided that two desserts weren’t necessary when I could borrow flavors and still go my own way. Here’s what I did: I made a warm compote with rhubarb and added strawberries because rhubarb loves nothing more than to hang out with strawberries. I made whipped cream with the slightest baby hint of cardamom. And remember my Irish butter shortbread? I used a wedge of that as a spoon-help, crisp element, buttery note, whatever you want to call it. A bite of shortbread with some compote and a bit of cream tastes like a bake-all-day strawberry-rhubarb pie, the ultimate sweet taste of spring. Sweet berries, tart rhubarb, warm cardamom, delicate whipped cream– magic, I say. It is also reminiscent of homemade shortcake, my all-time favorite strawberry dessert, and now I am thinking of a way to incorporate rhubarb into my shortcake recipe…

So, you should really try this. You may know about my poutiness when it comes to making pie crust, so maybe this was a subconscious refusal to roll out dough and make a proper pie, but I don’t think so. I think it was just good luck: discovering that I could make pretty good shortbread early in the week my husband brought home four metric tons (not quite, but almost, I swear) of rhubarb. In a perfect world, I would have had fresh strawberries to use, but I promise, cross my heart, that the frozen berries I used were awesome! They were great-tasting when I picked and froze them last summer and work perfectly for recipes like this. If you have fresh berries, lucky you, and by all means use them. If you don’t have/like cardamom, use nutmeg or cinnamon instead. If you’re still wavering, wondering if it’s that good, consider the fact that I made the compote two nights in a row because my husband liked it so much, he reminded me of the rhubarb plant he dug up and transplanted for me and all the stalks he brought home, giving me doe eyes until I relented and cooked up more. Who am I to deny him fruit? This dessert is a winner, a magic melange of flavors, trust me.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Magic (serves 6)

For the compote:

  • 2/3 – 1 c. sugar*
  • 1 c. water
  • 3 c. fresh rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 c. fresh or frozen strawberries (if thawed, be sure to keep the liquid)
  • pinch of salt

For the whipped cream:

  • 2/3 c. whipping cream
  • 2 T. sugar
  • pinch of ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Make the shortbread, a day or two ahead if you like. Mine was 48 hours old when I first made this dessert.

Make the compote: in a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Add the rhubarb and return to a boil, then lower the hear and simmer, uncovered, for 6 mins. Add your strawberries and bring again to a boil; cook at the high end of medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the mixture thickens and becomes syrupy. Depending on the size and age of your rhubarb, it will take anywhere from 5-10 mins., maybe more, and that’s fine. If you’ve chosen the lower sugar option, you may approach 10 mins. and still have a mixture too soupy for your liking. If that’s true, you can force the thickening by adding 1 tsp. of cornstarch dissolved in 2 tsp. of cold water; adding a cornstarch mixture requires 2-3 mins. more strong boiling but works every time I’ve tried it. When you achieve your desired consistency, remove the compote from the heat and set it aside to cool.

To make the whipped cream, use a mixer, immersion blender or super-strong arm to whip the cream until it noticeably thickens. When you notice that it is thickening, pause to add sugar, cardamom and vanilla, then continue to whip until it holds a peak shape when you lift the whisk out. Taste and add more cardamom, a tiny bit at a time!, if you like. This should not be a very sweet cream since you are adding it to two other sweetened items.

To serve, spoon some warm or room temperature compote into a bowl; dollop some cardamom cream on top and add a wedge of shortbread as a garnish.

If you have leftover compote, try it on ice cream, with yogurt or with pound cake. (You may need to make more.)

*Okay, let’s talk about sugar. I never like very sweet desserts, and I take particular pleasure in the tartness of cooked fresh rhubarb. Depending on the sweetness of your chosen strawberries, 2/3 c. sugar is plenty. However, if you doubt your strawberries or know that you like desserts on the sweeter side, you want to go for the full cup of sugar. If you finish the compote and think it’s not sweet enough, you could plan to add a little extra sugar to your cardamom cream.