Strawberries may be the default shortcake topping, but they are not the only way to enjoy the combination of buttery biscuits, plump fruit and luscious whipped cream.
Consider, for example, rhubarb.
In season at the same time, strawberries and rhubarb are often paired to fill the bellies of pies. But rhubarb is excellent on its own, when its deep, fruity sourness can shine without any intrusions.
And, when it’s roasted until soft and piled onto shortcakes, rhubarb is just as appealing as its more iconic counterpart, albeit in a very different way.
Where strawberries are raw and juicy, rhubarb is cooked and saucy. This is because when it comes to strawberries, less is more. A perfect pint requires no more embellishment than the slightest sprinkle of sugar before being plopped onto crumbly biscuits. Cooking would diminish them, so any jammy urges are better saved for lesser fruit.
Rhubarb, on the other hand, needs a bit more care to become delectable. While the stalks are edible raw (though not the leaves, which are toxic), they blossom when cooked with just enough sugar to temper their tartness.
You could stew them on the stovetop, letting the pieces slowly collapse into compote. But roasting not only helps maintain at least a bit of their texture; it also allows the juices to caramelize and condense. You get a richer, more syrupy mixture with a pleasing, sticky texture.
I like to add a vanilla bean to the pan while the rhubarb is roasting, but orange or lemon zest would also add a heady perfume. And using Demerara instead of white sugar adds a mineral, molasses note.
As for the shortcakes themselves, I add some oats to make them earthier and richer.
One of the good things about this recipe is that you can roast the rhubarb and bake the shortcakes at the same time. You can do this hours in advance, or while your guests are nibbling hors d’oeuvres. Just make sure to let everything cool completely before assembling, otherwise the heat will melt the whipped cream into a puddle.
Of course, if you are lucky enough to have strawberries as well as rhubarb at the ready, you could serve some sugared slices alongside the shortcakes. As long as rhubarb is the star here, it will happily share the plate.
Rhubarb Oat Shortcakes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 6 shortcakes
For the shortcakes:
1 1/2 cups/180 grams all-purpose flour, more as needed
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon/95 grams old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup/80 grams light brown sugar
1 tablespoon/15 grams baking powder
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange or lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 tablespoons/115 grams cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cubed
2/3 cup/160 milliliters heavy cream, more for brushing shortcakes
Demerara sugar, for garnish
For the roasted rhubarb:
2 pounds/907 grams rhubarb, trimmed and diced into 1-inch pieces (7 cups)
1 cup/210 grams Demerara sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup/118 milliliters heavy cream
1/2 cup/120 grams crème fraîche
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar or honey (optional)
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Make the shortcakes: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together flour, 1 cup (90 grams) oats, the brown sugar, the baking powder, the zest and the sea salt. Drop in butter and pulse until mixture forms lima-bean-size crumbs. Add cream and pulse until dough is just combined.
3. On a lightly floured surface, pat dough into a rectangle 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick. Brush generously with heavy cream and, lifting up a short side, fold dough in half as if you are closing a book. Cut dough into 6 squares. Transfer biscuits to prepared pan. Brush lightly with more cream and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon oats and the Demerara sugar. Chill until ready to bake.
4. Make the roasted rhubarb: In a large bowl, toss together rhubarb, Demerara sugar, melted butter, vanilla bean seeds and salt. Spread onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Transfer rhubarb to the oven. Bake 5 minutes.
5. Add pan of biscuits to the oven with rhubarb. Continue to bake, tossing rhubarb occasionally and scraping the darkening pieces at the edges of the baking sheet into the center, until biscuits are golden and rhubarb is very tender and the juices are bubbling thickly and have caramelized at the edges of the pan, about 20 minutes longer. If biscuits are ready before rhubarb, remove from oven while rhubarb finishes cooking. Let biscuits and rhubarb cool completely.
6. To serve: In a small bowl, whisk together cream, crème fraîche and confectioners’ sugar or honey, if using, until mixture forms soft peaks. Split biscuits crosswise and spoon rhubarb and whipped cream over biscuit bottoms. Cover with biscuit tops.