From the first time I smelled it I'd been trying to figure out the perfect angelica recipe for 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 its 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.
Classic Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp, with Angelica
- 1 11 x 13 baking pan or similar
- 2 lbs rhubarb
- 1 lb strawberries
- 1 cup + ⅓ cup sugar preferably a nice organic one
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 5 tablespoons fresh angelica stem diced ¼ inch *see note
- 1 ¼ cup oats preferably the thick, old fashioned kind
- 1.5 cups flour or equivalent
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- If using organic sugar with large granules, grind it in a blender or food processor to break it up, which will speed the maceration process.
- Wash the rhubarb, trim any tough stems and leaf particles, then cut into ½ inch pieces and toss with the cup of sugar and allow to macerate for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally, preferably in a place with ambient warmth, I used to put hotel pans on top of a cool oven in kitchens, but you could turn your oven on warm and set the rhubarb near the vent.
- Meanwhile, trim and quarter the strawberries and toss with the ⅓ cup sugar.
- For the crumb topping, toast the oats in a 350F oven for 15 minutes (optional) then cool and combine all the ingredients and mush them around gently with your hands, it’s ok if it’s a little clumpy.
- Drain the rhubarb of its juice, then combine with the strawberries, angelica, lemon juice, and cornstarch and mix well, then allow to rest overnight in the fridge, or for at least a few hours for the angelica’s perfume to penetrate the rest of the ingredients.
- To cook, preheat the oven to 375 and put the mixture in a 11x13 baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake 30 minutes more. Allow the crisp to rest a bit before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream. It’s also great the next day for breakfast with thick Greek yogurt.