WHEN MOST of us crave desserts, we conjure rich buttercreams, sweet pastries, and deep, dark chocolate. But surrounded by this sort of indulgent, bite-size sweetness all day long, Elizabeth Beekley, owner of Northwest Portland’s Two Tarts Bakery, prefers an alternative—something bright and puckery that can hold its own against an onslaught of sugar. Like rhubarb.
“It’s so exciting for us,” says Beekley, who’s smitten with the spring crop, “the first local fruit of the year.” Two Tarts has even hosted all-rhubarb baking classes, where aspiring bakers turn out crumbly bars layered with rhubarb preserves, little gem cookies filled with a tart dollop, and one of Beekley’s personal favorites, rhubarb rugelach.
Rugelach, the hard-to-find Eastern European crescent cookies, are usually filled with a spread of jam and a smattering of nuts or chocolate—or both. For her version, Beekley forsakes premade preserves, instead opting to take advantage of rhubarb’s willingness to slump under heat and simmer down into a quick reduction. She spikes it with a very un-European jolt of star anise—“I really like a tiny bit of that spice with the tartness”—and then rolls it with a shower of almonds in a rich cream cheese dough, the bright flavor of rhubarb playing against the rich, buttery pastry. Beekley concedes that rhubarb does tend to elicit a strong response, whether adoration or abhorrence. “There’s nobody in between—it’s a really polarizing fruit,” she says. But with rugelach like these, Team Rhubarb might win over a few more converts.