My strawberries are growing big and it won’t be long until I’ll be tasting the sweetness of my first picking.
I love the way rhubarb season overlaps into the first of the fresh local strawberries. Rhubarb’s tart flavour goes perfectly with the sweetness of strawberries and when cooked together, strawberry and rhubarb meet in the middle, somewhere between soft and sturdy, for a texture that works wonderfully in everything from pies, crisps, crumbles, to delicious ice creams, popsicles and cocktails and so much more.
Today I offer a dessert bar that is easy to put together and delicious and for a real change, a seasonal make-ahead breakfast French toast that’s perfect for a brunch crowd. I love making a variety of baked French toast because it can be prepared the night before and just popped into the oven in the morning. It makes the house smell amazing and the strawberries and rhubarb make this baked French toast extra special. It’s wonderful with a dollop of whipped cream. Enjoy!
Strawberry-Rhubarb Dessert Bars
1-1⁄2 cups fresh rhubarb, sliced into 1-inch pieces (unsweetened frozen rhubarb may be used)
1-1⁄2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1-1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1⁄2 cups quick oats (old-fashioned may be used, but not instant)
1 cup brown sugar (firmly packed, I use light brown but dark can be substituted)
3⁄4 cup butter, softened (12 tbsp., or 1 1/2 sticks)
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons milk or 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom of a 13×9 inch baking pan.
Combine rhubarb, strawberries and lemon juice in a 2-qt saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 8 to 12 minutes or until fruit is tender.
Combine granulated sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl, then mix into the fruit mixture. Keep cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil (approximately 1 minute). Continue boiling until thickened (1 minute). Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine all crust ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat on low speed, scraping bowl often, for 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture is crumbly. Set aside 1-1/2 cups of crumb mixture. Press remaining crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Spread fruit filling over crust, and sprinkle evenly with reserved crumb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Cool completely (I pop pan in fridge for a bit if I’m short on time).
Mix drizzle ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle over cooled bars. Cut into bars.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Baked French Toast
1 loaf French bread
6 large eggs
2-1/2 cups milk
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup sliced rhubarb
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
Maple syrup-for serving
Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
Tear French bread into chunks, or cut into cubes, and evenly place in the pan.
In a large bowl, mix together eggs and milk. In a small bowl, combine sugar and orange zest. Rub together with your fingers until fragrant. Add sugar mixture to the eggs and milk. Add in vanilla extract and cinnamon. Stir until combined. Pour evenly over bread.
Combine strawberries and rhubarb together in a medium bowl. Pour evenly over French toast. Take a spoon and poke the strawberries and rhubarb down into the bread. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
In a separate bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add butter pieces and cut into the dry mixture using a fork or your hands. Combine until the mixture resembles sand with a few pea-sized chunks. Cover and store mixture in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to bake the French toast, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove French toast from refrigerator and sprinkle crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the French toast is set and golden brown. Serve warm with maple syrup.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.