Mother’s Day arrives, and with it, a tray full of breakfast and gifts: Coffee, an egg sandwich, and a set of oval measuring spoons, the kind that fit into tiny spice jars. The coffee is very strong, the egg sandwich is mostly ham, but the measuring spoons are just right – something I mentioned a long time ago would be nice to have, then promptly forgot about.
The Child wants to know what I want to do for Mother’s Day, and my answer is simple. Nothing. After months of meetings with doctors and therapists and school administrators and social workers, I want a day filled with nothing.
I receive one, and, eventually, find my way into the back yard, where the untended garden overflows with weeds and whatever chard the slugs and leaf miners have left behind, but also a large, healthy rosemary plant, strawberry plants covered with blossoms, and a vast, leafy rhubarb plant offering an abundance of green stalks.
I don’t want muffins, and definitely not cake or pie. I want little nibbles, cookies, while The Child announces she will be happy with anything I make from the rhubarb.
A bit of looking turns up several recipes involving rhubarb and cardamom, which supposedly complement each other as nicely as rhubarb and strawberry. One recipe in particular intrigues me, for a cardamom-spiced shortbread with a layer of strawberry-rhubarb jam in the middle. The rhubarb and cardamom combination is intriguing, as is the technique for making the shortbread; the dough is frozen for a half hour, then grated into the pan.
I was looking forward to using my new measuring spoons, but they were not the new tool I needed at that particular moment. The recipe calls for ground cardamom, and although I had three – yes, three – jars of cardamom, each one was filled with whole green pods.
I set about laying cardamom pods on a cutting board, and smashing them under the flat end of a knife, then prying little black seeds loose with the tip of the knife. I don’t own a spice grinder, but I do own a coffee grinder, which seemed like it should serve the same function, so I cleaned it out by using one of the rare internet hacks that actually works. I ran a slice of sandwich bread through it, which picked up all the residual coffee grounds, then wiped it clean with a paper towel and ran the cardamom seeds through.
It worked like a champ. I used my new spoons to scoop the ground cardamom into the dough.
It smelled lovely. It tasted lovely.
The jam neatly solves the issue I have with my rhubarb, which is a green variety – very tasty, but not all that pretty to look at, which turns out to be somewhat of a limiting factor in using it. Here, though, a small amount of strawberries are used, enough to turn the rhubarb a pretty shade of pink, but not enough to overwhelm its tart, sprightly flavor. I made the jam while the dough was in the freezer, then cooled the jam quickly in the freezer while I grated the dough into the pan.
I made a couple of major changes to the recipe. First, I omitted vanilla from the jam. I think it would be a nice addition, but the filling is just perfect without it, too. (I left it out accidentally.) Second, the original recipe uses spelt flour, which I didn’t have, so I substituted an equivalent amount of all-purpose flour. It worked fine.
The Child and I both loved these cookies, and the entire tray of them was gone within a day.
The original recipe came from PBS recipes, which credits Dorie Greenspan, who adapted it from Julia Child’s Baking With Julia.
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
- a pinch of salt
- 1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 cups chopped rhubarb
- ½ cup chopped strawberries
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 tbsp water
- Make the dough: Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, cream the butter until smooth and fluffy. Add the eggs yolks and sugar and mix well.
- Add the dry ingredients mixture and combine the two until a soft dough has formed.
- Shape the dough into two balls, one slightly smaller than the other. Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 30 minutes. (You can also make the dough well ahead of time, and keep it in the freezer until you're ready to bake.)
- Make the filling: Bring the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and water to a slow simmer over low heat, stirring frequently. Simmer gently, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb softens and a pretty, somewhat thick jam forms. Remove from heat and allow the filling to cool completely.
- Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Remove the largest of the two balls of dough from the freezer and using the larger holes of a box grate, grate the dough directly into a greased 10 inch springform pan. Gently pat the dough into the pan.
- Spread the rhubarb filling evenly over the dough, leaving a little half inch gap around the edge.
- Remove the second ball of dough from the freezer and grate evenly over the top. The rhubarb should be evenly covered, but you will still see bits of filling. Lightly pat the top layer down.
- Bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
- Allow the cookies to cool completely in the pan before slicing into wedges.
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