Rhubarb Ruminations

One of the many things my husband introduced me to during my stay in Latvia was rhubarb.

It's odd that I'd never tried it before, considering I have spent so long in Utah where strawberry-rhubarb pie was always a favorite at the local pie joints. Not to mention canning season when rhubarb is put up for the winter and the long stalks of this ruby-red wonder decorate the produce section temptingly.

My first encounter with it was in a strawberry-rhubarb cake. Imagine, if you will, thin layers of white cake, interspersed with layers of rhubarb preserves and finished with a thin layer of vanilla cream edged with strawberries, more preserves and rhubarb/strawberry gelatin. It's a typical Latvian-style cake that's offered for sale in Rimi all the time.

I confess, I grew rather attached to it and miss having it here.

My husband has been watching the produce at Macey's, our local grocery store, waiting for rhubarb to come down in price. This week, the first sale of the season came around and we bought a few stalks for 44c. When he was a kid, his mom would peel a stalk of rhubarb and set it with a dish of sugar in front of him for a snack. He'd dip the stalk in the sugar and chow down -- enjoying the sweet-sour taste.

I haven't had rhubarb since returning to the States almost seven months ago, so when he decided he wanted to have one of his favorite rhubarb desserts, rabarberu rausis, I couldn't resist. This rausis, straight from one of our old Latvian cuisine cookbooks called for a fluffy yeast dough topped with sugared rhubarb and a sour cream topping.

Working with recipes from different cultures and languages can be a bit challenging. This one was no exception.

In Latvia, when a recipe calls for "yeast" (raugs), it means "cake yeast". According to Red Star Yeast, 2 ounces of cake yeast equals 2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast. We were halving the recipe so that brought it down even further. Next, the recipe simply said "make a yeast dough," leaving it up to the user to already know how to bake. American sour cream is different in texture from Latvian sour cream. And so on, and so forth.

The recipe isn't perfect yet. But I can tell you, it's damn good. Sweet, fluffy bread base topped with sweetly sour rhubarb and graced with tangy custard. It's worth experimenting further with, that's for sure.

Rhubarb Pie (Rabarberu rausis) [printable recipe]

Adapted from Latviešu ēdieni


  • 250 g ap flour
  • 125 g milk (about 1/2 cup)
  • 40 g + 1 tsp sugar
  • 75 g butter
  • 1/2 egg
  • 3 g salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/4 c warm water (100 - 110F)


  • 400 g rhubarb, peeled and coarsely diced
  • 50 g sugar
  • 75 g sour cream
  • 2 egg yolks
  • buttermilk or kefir
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To make the dough: Combine yeast with warm water and 1 tsp of sugar, stirring to dissolve, let sit for 10 minutes until doubled in volume. Mix in flour, half an egg, salt, butter and milk. Place in an oiled bowl on a rack over boiling/steaming water, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 1.5 to 2 hours until doubled.

On a floured surface, roll out dough to about 1/2" thickness. Put the flattened dough into a 9x9 greased baking dish (or slightly larger, if you have it) and let rise for another hour.

Preheat oven to 350F.

To make the filling: Whip sour cream and egg yolks together, adding in vanilla extract, remaining sugar gradually. Thin with buttermilk or kefir if needed to obtain a pourable consistency (like a thick pancake batter). Peel rhubarb and coarsely dice, then mix with about 30 g sugar and set aside.

Preparing the finished cake: Indent the edges of the dough like a pizza so that a small 1/2" to 1" wide raised edge will prevent the filling from soaking the bottom of the dish. Spread rhubarb evenly over the dough then pour the batter over.

Bake at 350F for 40 - 50 minutes until golden brown. If a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes back clean, it should be ready to come out.