Before Holy Week, I had planned to make a half batch of honey bunnies for a Pascha treat. A whole batch would be too many for our family, and I wouldn’t be taking them to church to share. So a half batch would do it.
But when I went to the grocery on Holy Tuesday, there was no yeast. We only go to the grocery every two weeks now, and if we’re out of something, we wait until the next shopping day. So there would be no honey bunnies.
I had to think of something else to make for a sweet treat for Pascha. It had to be something I could make with what I had on hand. That meant I couldn’t try my hand at koulourakia, as I had no oranges and no baker’s ammonia.
But I had rhubarb. Lots of rhubarb. And rhubarb, of course, tastes like spring.
And I have a rhubarb cookbook. But the sweets and desserts in that book also called for ingredients I didn’t have on hand.
But what about my own recipes? I thought of my cranberry thumbprint cookies. Would they work with rhubarb?
The answer? YES! These rhubarb thumbprint cookies are amazing. I think they will be a Pascha tradition at our house from now on.
(And I did get honey bunnies after all. A dear friend made a batch, and she and her daughter left some on my doorstep. They were as tender and delicious as they could possibly be!)
Make the rhubarb sauce
When I make these next year, I’ll likely make the rhubarb sauce early in Holy Week. That will save time on Holy Saturday, so it will be easier to bring these rhubarb thumbprint cookies to share at the pot luck after Agape Vespers.
Rhubarb sauce ingredients
4 cups of chopped fresh rhubarb
1 scant cup of sugar
Splash of orange juice
Rhubarb sauce instructions
In a saucepan, stir together all the ingredients.
Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring frequently. The rhubarb will start giving off lots of juice as it heats.
Once there’s enough liquid in the pan that you’re not worried about it scorching, increase the heat to medium high, and bring it to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb falls apart and the mixture is thicker than applesauce, but not as thick as oatmeal.
Remove from heat, transfer it to a glass dish, cover tightly, and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.
You need about a cup and a half of sauce for the cookies. If you have more than enough, that’s good, because it’s delicious spread on toast or stirred into oatmeal or as a sauce on salmon or pork chops or a topping for ice cream.
Make the rhubarb cookies
The recipe makes between 90 and 100 bite-sized cookies.
Rhubarb cookie ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
Zest from one large lemon
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups unbleached pastry flour *
1 1/2 cups rhubarb sauce
* If you can’t get pastry flour, use a low-protein all-purpose flour like Hodgson Mill or Gold Medal.
Rhubarb cookie instructions
Line 3 insulated baking sheets with parchment paper. If you don’t have insulated baking sheets, regular ones will do. You’ll just have to watch more carefully while the cookies bake.
Beat the butter and the sugar together until it’s light and fluffy. (Don’t skimp on the beating time.)
Add the yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Beat well, scraping down the side of the bowl as needed. Add the flour and beat just long enough that it’s mixed in completely.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. A one-teaspoon cookie scoop is exactly the right tool for the job. If you don’t have one, use a measuring spoon to measure out 1 teaspoon of dough for each cookie, and shape them into balls using your hands.
Place on the prepared baking sheets, about 1 1/2 or 2 inches apart. With a floured finger, press the center of each ball to make it into a little bowl or nest.
Bake one sheet of cookies at a time, 16 to 18 minutes, until they are light golden brown on the bottom.
Take the pan out of the oven, and immediately fill each cookie with 1/2 teaspoon of rhubarb sauce, then return the cookies to the oven for 2 minutes.
Cool the cookies on a rack.
I like my rhubarb thumbprint cookies plain. But if you want to fancy them up, once they’re completely cool, you can drizzle them with a thin glaze, or dust them with powdered sugar.
Paska and kulich: The very traditional kulich recipe is from my friend Natalie’s mom. The paska recipe is Natalie’s own recipe. It’s not really traditional, but it’s fast and easy (at least compared to the traditional recipe), and it’s delicious.
Cheese and sausage balls: These bite-sized savory treats have been a Pascha basket staple for our family for decades.
Elegant crescent cookies in a hurry: These cookies are made from store-bought refrigerated pie crusts. Seriously. You have to try them.
Buy the Book: Catherine’s Pascha
FINALIST IN THE 2015 USA BEST BOOK AWARDS
Catherine doesn’t like vegetables. She doesn’t like naps. She doesn’t like it when her mom combs her hair. She loves hot dogs, chocolate cake, and her best friend, Elizabeth. Most of all, she loves Pascha! Pascha, the Orthodox Christian Easter, is celebrated in the middle of the night, with processions and candles and bells and singing. And Catherine insists that she’s not a bit sleepy.