Early English rhubarb is coming into season now. Forced rhubarb has a more delicate flavour and a less woody stem than the outdoor garden type. It is very versatile and, apart from being used in pies, tarts and crumbles, it is also good when added to muffins, cakes, traybakes and strudels.
In cakes and muffins the rhubarb can be cut into 2.5cm/½-inch slices and added to the other ingredients, uncooked. Don’t put too high a proportion in, as the rhubarb releases a lot of liquid as it cooks and it can make the cake soggy.
To cook rhubarb, sprinkle with sugar and add a little grated orange zest and some orange juice. Cook until the rhubarb is still just holding its shape. This can be easier to achieve if baked, covered, in the oven. Drain off any excess liquid.
Ensuring the rhubarb is sweet enough, put the cooked, drained rhubarb on top of an uncooked sponge cake mixture and cover with a streusel or crumble topping before baking. Ginger, whether ground, grated or crystallised is a good partner to rhubarb as is cinnamon. It also works well with other, sweeter, fruits such as strawberries, apples and bananas.
Mix cooked rhubarb with dried fruits, chopped pecan nuts, cinnamon and some dry breadcrumbs and wrap in filo pastry for a fresh-tasting strudel.
Fiona Burrell, co-author of Leith’s Baking Bible, from the world-famous Leiths School of Food and Wine