Alright people—this is not a drill! Rhubarb season is almost here. This is what we’ve trained for.
But seriously, no other seasonal produce gets me in a frenzy quite like rhubarb’s inaugural spring arrival. Okay… I say that about a lot of things; I love the sight of Meyer lemons and blood oranges when they finally arrive in stores, the possibility of Seville/sour oranges—no matter how nil the chances—and I’ve got my eye on my sorrel in the garden. What can I say? The simple things just tickle me. But I can’t help but think that excitement and elation over these things is nothing more than a placeholder for the thing that really has my heart, and that’s rhubarb. All the others are merely something to look forward to, but with rhubarb… I’m freakin’ white-knuckling it until spring. So while others are fumbling over each other, fighting for the season’s first foraged ramps at the farmers’ market I am stuffing my bag with hot pink spears of sharp sweetness.
My natural inclination is to make my Rhubarb-Almond Crumble. I do it every year with the markets’ first offering of rhubarb. When I lived in Michigan, a top rhubarb producer, the hothouse crops would start showing up in stores as early as January. They were shockingly pink, almost blindingly so, very dense and firm, and held their shape incredibly well when cooked so they were perfect for pies and crumbles. To me, hothouse rhubarb has a bit more sweetness to it than field-grown ones; others might suggest that it lacks some of the subtle nuances that you’d find in plants grown naturally. Opinions. You know the deal.
It’s not just for dessert, though. Every year I tell myself that I’m going to venture to the savory side with rhubarb and every year I loose sight of it, wrapped up making every sweet I can think of. That said, I have wandered into breakfast with it. With any leftover rhubarb that I have from my crumble purchase (and there always is—I take buying in bulk to X-Game levels with this stuff) I make some Vanilla Roasted Rhubarb for mixing into Greek yogurt for breakfast. Okay, it’s good on ice cream, too. Not the point.
These Rhubarb-Cheese Danishes are the perfect breakfast option. Not only does it feed my terminal craving for rhubarb but it’s also portable. The tartness of the rhubarb is there, as it should be, but it’s gentled a bit by the velvety cream cheese so the sharpness is balanced. Perhaps best of all, you get the smug satisfaction of feeling like a pastry chef, being able to say you freshly baked some homemade Danishes, all under the comfort and ease of store-bought puff pastry. So, if you know you’ve got a meeting the next morning you can have a special treat for everyone that will win them over. The night before just put the puff pastry in the fridge to defrost, then make up your compote and cream cheese mixture so they too can chill over night (and if you know well enough in advance you can defrost the puff and make the fillings the morning before and assemble that night). The next morning its nothing more than a quick assembly job before you bake them off.
(Quick assembly—spread the fillings and roll away. Just be sure to leave a bit of an overhang.)
So join me as I camp out in the market in anticipation rhubarb’s arrival. Don’t worry… they’re used to it.
Combine rhubarb and sugar in a small saucepan (1-quart or so), stir together and cook over medium-low to low heat for 15 minutes, until the rhubarb softens to a pulpy jam, taking care that the sugar doesn’t burn. Cool and store in airtight container in the fridge until chilled—the compote being chilled helps it from melting too much when baked.
Mix cream cheese, powdered sugar, egg yolk, salt, and vanilla together until well combined. Store in fridge until chilled. As with the compote, the cream cheese bakes better in these when it’s still chilled.
Preheat oven to 400°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.
One sheet at a time, roll out the puff pastry into a 12” x 12” sheet. Cut in half, then each half into thirds (4” each) so from each sheet you have six 4” x 6” portions.
Spoon 1 ½ tablespoons of the cream cheese mix on the 4” end of each pastry piece, spreading it within about ¼” of the edges and ½” wide. Make a small horizontal well in the cheese, then spoon in 1 tablespoon of the rhubarb compote.
Now, roll the pastry: roll the end with the filling over so that the compote is facing toward, then roll again so it’s facing up inside the pastry. You should have about ½” overhang of pastry on the bottom. Move each one to the lined baking sheets as you finish them.
Beat the egg and water together to make an egg wash. Brush the seam between the roll and overhang with a little egg wash. Refrigerate the pastries for 10 minutes, then brush the surface of the pastries with egg wash, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake for 18 - 20 minutes.
Once they come out, let them rest on the trays for 5 minutes, then move to wire cooling wrack.
These are great served warm—just 5 – 10 minutes after moving to the cooling wrack—or at room temperature.
Spring rhubarb holds its shape better than the (limited) fall crop; if you’re using late-season ‘barb you may not need to cook it as long. Conversely, if you’ve got hothouse rhubarb (bright pink almost all the way through with pale, pale yellow leaves) you may need to cook it longer—say maybe 20 – 25 minutes—because it stays quite firm and holds its shape better when cooked.
Expect leftover rhubarb compote—serve with the Danishes or save for ice cream, yogurt, strawberry smoothies or milk shakes, etc. It freezes well, too.
These are best served the day they’re baked because they still have that freshly baked quality to them. That said, I enjoyed the leftovers for about 3 days for breakfast, reheating them quickly and gently in the microwave, and did so happily.
You can easily half the recipe if you don’t need 12 and don’t want leftovers.