Rhubarb season, like asparagus season, is eagerly awaited at our house. Andrew cannot wait to get his hands on the slender red and green stalks and get into the kitchen to bake. The first rhubarb of the season is always preferable to what comes later: The thicker the stalks, the tougher and stringier the rhubarb. This may account for the love it or hate it reputation rhubarb has. Notoriously tart, its natural companion is sugar to compensate for the bite. These muffins however are not overly sweet, the Sour cream added to the batter keeps them that way. The cinnamon gives them an irresistible scent.
Botanically rhubarb is a vegetable. But in 1947 a court in New York ruled, in a burst of judicial clarity, that since it was used as a fruit in the US, it should be counted as a fruit for “purposes of regulations and duties”. Since tariffs were higher for vegetables than fruits, the net effect of this ruling was that rhubarb was cheaper to import. Despite having been grown in China for at least 2700 years and being brought to Europe by Marco Polo, rhubarb has only been grown in this country since about 1820. It was brought to Maine and Massachusetts by European settlers and moved westward from there. If you do grow your own rhubarb –which is relatively easy to do as it’s a hardy perennial--note that only the stalks are edible. The leaves in fact are poisonous. Here’s the recipe for this wonderful seasonal treat, best served warm which can easily be accomplished by re-heating them at 350 degrees for 3 to 4 minutes.
Recipe for Cinnamon Rhubarb Muffins from Fine Cooking Magazine
For the muffins:
9 oz. (2 cups) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup sour cream
4 oz. (8 Tbs.) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups 1/4-inch-diced rhubarb (7-1/4 oz.)
For the topping:
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil baking cups.
Make the muffin batter:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt and whisk to blend.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Lightly stir the sour cream mixture into the dry ingredients with a spatula until the batter just comes together; do not overmix.
Gently stir in the diced rhubarb.
The batter will be thick.
Divide the batter among the muffin cups, using the back of a spoon or a small spatula to settle the batter into the cups. The batter should mound a bit higher than the tops of the cups.
Make the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon and mix well. Sprinkle a generous 1/2 tsp. of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over each muffin.
Bake the muffins until they’re golden brown, spring back most of the way when gently pressed, and a pick inserted in the center comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes. Carefully lift the muffins out of the pan—if necessary, loosen them with the tip of a paring knife—and let them cool somewhat. Serve warm.