Some of you may be (rightfully) expecting the famous Barefoot Contessa Flag Cake (from Barefoot Contessa Family Style) to show up here, now that it’s Independence Day. I’m sorry that you’ll have to wait until next year for that treat, but I’ll share with you a story – and a different dessert – instead.
The Flag Cake is what brought me to Ina. The recipe was originally published in Martha Stewart Living magazine in July 2001, where Ina Garten published a guest piece. If you’re keeping track, I was 23 at the time. You may be asking yourself: what 23-year-old subscribes to Martha Stewart Living? I did, and unapologetically so. I even made the cake for my coworkers that summer, when I was interning at the Department of Health and Human Services between my second and third years of law school. This was the summer of 2001, and security was tight in federal buildings even before the events that happened on September 11 of that year. My coworkers were just as impressed with the fact that I brought a butter knife to work and through the metal detectors as they were with the cake. “We haven’t seen a real metal knife ’round these parts in YEARS!” I didn’t even know that I was slipping anything nefarious past the guards. I have that doe-eyed (some would say vacuous) look about me, and I’m sure they just thought, “There goes that nice Midwestern girl with the cow-town accent and a big-ass flag cake.” Yes, that was me.
Anyway, we enjoyed the cake that summer, and in summers to follow. I’ve even been known to plan whole celebrations around that cake. For a while, people just thought I was really patriotic, wanting to celebrate Independence Day so fervently every year. Nope. I just wanted to make that flag cake.
I can’t tell you what, exactly, appealed to me so much about the flag cake. I remember leafing through the Sunday paper circulars when I was a little girl, wanting to make the (in retrospect, horrifying) patriotic cakes with Cool Whip and red, white, and blue Jell-O. I wasn’t particularly fond of any of the ingredients, but I wanted to make something pretty. We weren’t pretty dessert people when I was growing up. Do you see what happens, parents of the world, when you deny your child something? They grow up and obsess about it, and 25 years later they’re blogging about a cake. I can tell you, though, what appealed to me about Ina Garten’s guest piece in the Martha Stewart magazine that summer. Her ingredients were fresh and simple, and her instructions were easy to follow. Everything she made was beautiful, but not fussy or pretentious, and it tasted so, so good.
So, why didn’t I make it this year? We’re still adjusting to life as a family of four, so we’re not quite up to throwing a big party just yet. That cake requires a whole party, and it would not freeze well with all of the beautiful fresh berries on it. Maybe I’ll pretend to be Betsy Ross and make it for my birthday in a few weeks if the berries still look good.
Instead, I made the Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp from Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?
The blue baking dish that holds it was a wedding gift, and it’s one of my favorite things. It gave the whole dish a patriotic flair, which made me feel slightly less guilty for putting off the flag cake for another year.
I’m not ordinarily excited about rhubarb. It’s bitter, so it requires a lot of sugar, and I think most people don’t sweeten it enough to make it palatable. I could never understand why my grandmother gave it away as a gift like a bouquet of flowers. As it turns out, some folks get really excited about rhubarb: there’s an entire festival devoted to it in Lanesboro, Minnesota. Also, I think a lot of northern locavores like it because it’s a great source of Vitamin C that can actually be grown here. Still, I kind of scoffed at rhubarb until I had to make it for this project. I will scoff no more. I should have known that Ina could make even the lowly stalk-like plant that pops up like a weed in my parents’ back yard every spring delicious. I used some of the leftover strawberries from the fruit platter that I brought to the Contessa party.
Not only is this crisp delicious, it’s also beautiful. Baking the strawberries and the rhubarb together brings out a bright red hue. A few notes, though: the whole thing is incredibly soupy. The recipe instructs us to serve it with vanilla ice cream, which I think is a good move. Also, the recipe calls for 4 cups of rhubarb, or 4-5 stalks. I needed more like 6-7 large stalks to make 4 cups of diced rhubarb.
So, flag cake, you’ll have to wait a while to appear here. Your lowly rhubarb cousin will have to suffice for now.