From the first time I smelled angelica I’d been trying to figure out the perfect use for it in a dessert, which is easier said than done. Like truffles, the flavor is very strong alone, and almost soapy, but when mixed with too many things, the taste and aroma disappear completely. To further compound things, too much cooking/heat also destroys it’s perfume.
So you can’t cook angelica too much, but if you don’t cook it at all it’s near un-palatable. The aroma is so special though, I needed to capture it. For a few months it was all I could think of, I couldn’t rest until I’d found a way to harness it for diners to enjoy.
Just a sniff of it is enough to make my mind wander, and my mouth water. I get a whiff of carrot-family perfume, and a quality that craves fruit to soften it’s bite, so that’s where my brain starts to pair dessert flavors.
At first I thought a peach cobbler would be the best and I still need to make one, but it’s difficult since their season’s don’t really align. You know what does fruit at the *exact* same time as Angelica here in Minnesota? A piece of our Midwestern heritage: rhubarb. There’s a trick to using angelica stem I’ve alluded to here though, since if you just throw angelica in with some rhubarb and cook it, it won’t be the same.
I don’t know how many times I made versions of this I wasn’t pleased with. I would mix together a strawberry and rhubarb mix, chop up some angelica stem and throw it in. It started off smelling amazing, the red scent of berries and rhubarb all tied together with the undertone of the crazy smelling plant. But, after I baking I could barely taste the angelica at all, and putting more chopped angelica stem in with the rhubarb and strawberries didn’t seem to make too much of a difference.
After beating my head against a wall trying different variations with tablespoons versus teaspoons, I was ready to throw in the towel. Not wanting to be wasteful, I saved a couple raw ramekins full of crisp mix one day, and cooked them the next day for a snack. Something was different with them though, the angelica’s perfume was stronger, more apparent, it was perfect.
Here’s whats happening. Just like truffles, angelica’s perfume (when using the stem) is lessened by heat and cooking. Just like truffles, other ingredients you mix with it in it’s raw state will absorb it’s perfume. So in a sense, my leaving the raw crisp mix overnight bathed the rhubarb and strawberries in the angelica’s scent, just like what happens when you store fresh truffles in rice for making risotto, the rice absorbs the scent, and stretches the truffle’s yield. In reality, the power in angelica is infusing other things with it’s scent, not in tasting the physical pieces of stem.
Making a solid crisp worthy of a restaurant menu was more difficult than I thought it would be too. I channeled all my old-grandmother magic, but I really need to give a shout out to my insanely talented, former pastry chef Lashaw Castellano for helping me out. It’s a simple recipe, but those can be the most complicated sometimes, since any little screw-up will be noticeable.
What I wanted to avoid is the rustic-looking, water left over in the bottom of the pan after baking. Marinating the rhubarb before cooking and discarding the liquid takes care of that, a pro-tip from Lashaw.
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with Angelica
The angelica flavor here is layered by using the toasted seeds harvested later in the season in the streusal topping. It’s a nice addition if you have some, but making it without the seeds is just fine too.
Yield: 5 four ounce ramekins
- 1 lb red rhubarb stalks, trimmed of leaves, washed, and cut into 1 inch pieces
- ½ lb ripe strawberries, washed and quartered
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons white wine (water can be substituted)
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup plus ¼ cup white sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons fresh angelica stem, diced ¼ inch
For the angelica seed streusel (yields roughly 1 cup)
- ¾ cup all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced ½ inch
- 1/2 cup oats
- 2 teaspoons angelica seed, lightly toasted and finely chopped (optional)
- Pinch of salt
First make the streusel
- Combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, oats, angelica seed and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter. From here the streusel can be made ahead and frozen in a labeled container for future use. The recipe is easily doubled.
Cooking and assembling the crisps
- Toss the rhubarb with ½ cup sugar and allow to rest for 1 hour In a warm place, at the restaurant we put it on top of a warm oven. Toss the strawberries with the ¼ cup sugar and set aside for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325.
- Remove the rhubarb to a mixing bowl, discard the sugar and any excess liquid, then combine with the strawberries, vanilla and cornstarch. Bake the rhubarb-strawberry mixture for 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just tender. Remove the pan from the oven and cool, then place in a strainer and allow the juice to drain.
- Toss the drained rhubarb-strawberry mixture with the diced angelica, then divide the mixture evenly between 5 four ounce ramekins.
- Put the drained juice from the rhubarb and strawberries in a small sauce pan and add the milk, lemon and wine. Cook, whisking occasionally for a few minutes just until thickened.
- Evenly divide the thickened juice between the five ramekins, then top each with ¼ cup of the streusel mixture and allow to rest overnight so the perfume of the angelica can penetrate the mixture.
- To serve, bake the crisps at 350 for 10 minutes or until just hot throughout. Be careful not to overbake or they will become mushy. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and serve immediately.