How to Prepare Rhubarb for Crumble – A Step-by-Step Guide

by Ella

Rhubarb crumble is a delightful and quintessentially British dessert that perfectly balances tart and sweet flavors. The key to an outstanding crumble lies in preparing the rhubarb correctly. This guide will take you through every step, from selecting and preparing the rhubarb to creating the perfect crumble topping. By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with all the knowledge and tips needed to make a delectable rhubarb crumble that will impress your family and friends.

Understanding Rhubarb

What is Rhubarb?

Rhubarb is a perennial plant known for its tart, fleshy stalks, which are often used in desserts and savory dishes. Although it is botanically a vegetable, it is commonly treated as a fruit in culinary contexts. The stalks range in color from pale green to deep red, with the red varieties generally being sweeter.


Nutritional Benefits

Rhubarb is low in calories and high in fiber, making it an excellent addition to a balanced diet. It is also rich in vitamins C and K, as well as calcium and potassium. However, it is important to note that the leaves of rhubarb contain oxalic acid and are toxic; only the stalks should be consumed.


Selecting Rhubarb

When to Buy


Rhubarb is typically in season from April to June, although it can sometimes be found earlier or later depending on the climate. The best rhubarb is harvested in the spring and early summer when the stalks are tender and flavorful.


What to Look For

When selecting rhubarb for your crumble, choose stalks that are firm and crisp with a vibrant color. Avoid stalks that are limp, wilted, or have blemishes. The size of the stalks doesn’t necessarily indicate quality; both thin and thick stalks can be equally good.

Preparing Rhubarb

Cleaning and Trimming

Wash Thoroughly: Rinse the rhubarb stalks under cold running water to remove any dirt or debris.

Trim the Ends: Cut off the tough ends of the stalks, as well as any leaves, which are toxic.

Peel if Necessary: If the stalks are particularly fibrous, you can peel off the outer layer with a vegetable peeler or a paring knife. However, peeling is often unnecessary and may remove some of the vibrant color.

Cutting the Rhubarb

For a crumble, the rhubarb should be cut into uniform pieces to ensure even cooking. Aim for pieces that are about 1-inch in length. If the stalks are very thick, you can also slice them lengthwise before cutting them into pieces.

Sweetening and Macerating

Rhubarb is naturally very tart, so it benefits from being sweetened before baking. Here’s how to do it:

Combine with Sugar: In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb pieces with granulated sugar. A good rule of thumb is to use about 1/2 cup of sugar for every pound of rhubarb.

Add Flavorings (Optional): You can also add other flavorings at this stage, such as vanilla extract, orange zest, or a pinch of ground ginger.

Let It Sit: Allow the rhubarb to macerate for at least 30 minutes. This process helps to draw out the juices and soften the rhubarb, ensuring it bakes up tender and flavorful.

Making the Crumble Topping

Basic Crumble Recipe

A classic crumble topping is made from a simple mixture of flour, sugar, and butter. Here’s a basic recipe to get you started:


  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Optional: 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/2 cup chopped nuts, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Combine Dry Ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt. If using, add the oats, nuts, and cinnamon.

Cut in the Butter: Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingertips, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. It’s important to work quickly to prevent the butter from melting.

Chill the Topping: Place the crumble topping in the refrigerator to keep it cold while you prepare the rhubarb filling.

Variations and Additions

You can customize the crumble topping to suit your taste or dietary preferences. Here are some ideas:

Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free flour or almond flour in place of all-purpose flour.

Lower Sugar: Substitute some or all of the sugar with a low-calorie sweetener.

Different Flavors: Experiment with spices like nutmeg, cardamom, or ginger. Add lemon or orange zest for a citrusy twist.

Assembling the Crumble

Prepping the Filling

After the rhubarb has macerated, it’s time to prepare the filling:

Drain Excess Liquid: If a lot of liquid has accumulated, you may want to drain some off to prevent the crumble from becoming too soggy.

Combine with Thickener: To help the filling set, mix the rhubarb with a thickener like cornstarch or tapioca starch. Use about 1 tablespoon of thickener for every pound of rhubarb.

Layering the Crumble

Preheat the Oven: Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).

Prepare the Baking Dish: Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish or a similar-sized dish  with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

Add the Filling: Spread the prepared rhubarb filling evenly in the baking dish.

Top with Crumble: Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the rhubarb filling.


Bake: Place the crumble in the preheated oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

Cool Slightly: Allow the crumble to cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving. This allows the filling to set slightly and makes it easier to serve.

Serving Suggestions

Rhubarb crumble is delicious on its own, but it can also be served with a variety of accompaniments:

Ice Cream: Vanilla ice cream is a classic pairing.

Whipped Cream: Lightly sweetened whipped cream adds a creamy contrast.

Custard: Traditional English custard is a delightful and rich addition.

Yogurt: For a lighter option, try serving the crumble with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Storing and Reheating


Refrigerate: Store leftover crumble in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 3-4 days.

Freeze: You can also freeze the baked crumble. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and then in aluminum foil, or place it in an airtight container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.


Oven: Reheat the crumble in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven for 15-20 minutes, or until warmed through.

Microwave: For a quick reheating, microwave individual servings on high for about 1 minute.

Tips and Tricks

Balance the Tartness: If your rhubarb is particularly tart, you can adjust the sweetness by adding a little more sugar or a splash of fruit juice, like orange or apple juice.

Mix with Other Fruits: Rhubarb pairs well with other fruits like strawberries, apples, and pears. Adding these fruits can balance the tartness and add more flavor.

Prevent Sogginess: To prevent the crumble topping from becoming soggy, ensure your filling is not too watery. Draining excess liquid and using a thickener can help achieve the right consistency.

Texture Variations: For a more interesting texture, consider adding a variety of ingredients to the topping, such as oats, nuts, or even coconut flakes.

Advanced Techniques

Caramelizing Rhubarb

For an extra layer of flavor, consider caramelizing the rhubarb before using it in the crumble:

Heat a Skillet: Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add a tablespoon of butter.

Add Rhubarb and Sugar: Add the rhubarb pieces and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the skillet.

Cook: Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is caramelized and softened, about 5-7 minutes.

Cool: Allow the caramelized rhubarb to cool slightly before proceeding with the recipe.

Infusing Flavors

Infuse additional flavors into your rhubarb filling by adding spices, herbs, or extracts:

Spices: Cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger can enhance the flavor of the rhubarb.

Herbs: Fresh herbs like mint or basil can add a unique twist.

Extracts: Vanilla extract, almond extract, or orange blossom water can complement the rhubarb’s tartness.

Making Ahead

If you’re preparing for a special occasion or simply want to save time, you can make parts of the crumble in advance:

Prepare the Topping: Make the crumble topping and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Macerate the Rhubarb: Macerate the rhubarb and store it in the refrigerator for up to 1 day before assembling the crumble.

Rhubarb Crumble Variations

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

A classic combination that balances the tartness of rhubarb with the sweetness of strawberries:

Ingredients: Use equal parts rhubarb and strawberries. Adjust the sugar to taste, as strawberries will add more natural sweetness.

Preparation: Follow the same steps as the basic rhubarb crumble, but mix the strawberries and rhubarb together before adding the sugar and thickener.

Apple Rhubarb Crumble

Apples add a mild sweetness and extra texture to the crumble:

Ingredients: Use a mix of tart and sweet apples, such as Granny Smith and Honeycrisp, along with the rhubarb.

Preparation: Peel and slice the apples, then mix them with the rhubarb, sugar, and thickener before proceeding with the recipe.

Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble

Ginger adds a spicy kick that complements the tart rhubarb:

Ingredients: Add 1-2 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon of ground ginger to the rhubarb filling.

Preparation: Mix the ginger with the rhubarb, sugar, and thickener before assembling the crumble.

See Also: Banana Pudding Cake Recipe


Preparing rhubarb for a crumble is a simple yet rewarding process that results in a delicious dessert perfect for any occasion. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can ensure that your rhubarb crumble is perfectly balanced, with tender, flavorful rhubarb and a crisp, buttery topping. Whether you stick to the classic recipe or experiment with variations and advanced techniques, you’ll be able to create a dessert that delights the taste buds and showcases the unique flavor of rhubarb. Enjoy your homemade rhubarb crumble with friends and family, and savor the taste of this timeless treat.



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