Rhubarb is like tonic water. I never pause to think about what tonic water tastes like and I never sip it straight. In fact when I finally gave it a go at home, I realized I had been conflating the taste of tonic water with bad quality gin and 3 a.m. mozzarella sticks from the Happy Days Diner. I'd like to formally say, I'm sorry, tonic water. You are your own quininial beast, and I was letting my poor culinary habits drag you down.
I don't think I'm the only person for whom rhubarb is the tonic water of the produce world. I never eat it alone, and, without thinking too much about it, I realized that when I say I'm thinking about rhubarb, I'm really thinking about strawberry. We're in a sad sack marriage and I won't keep up the charade.
In penitence, I spent a whole weekend with rhubarb, using Serious Eats recipe files as my home base. But at the end of the day, I gave into my old pleasures and paired rhubarb up with strawberries. They're just so good together that it's hard to say no.
But this begs another question: at the very least, why don't we spring strawberry and rhubarb from their pie shell? When people think of strawberry and rhubarb, they're probably really thinking about pie. And though I'm sort of mentally cheating on everything with pie, these muffins show just how good the strawberry-rhubarb pairing can be outside of their buttery, flaky home.
First things first: start with a good muffin base. The crumb to these muffins is tender and moist. They're well scented with vanilla, whose floral notes pair nicely with the mellow fruit. If possible, I'd suggest using Mexican vanilla here because of its creamy, sweet taste. The topping is a rich, buttery streusel that adds a flavor bomb to every vertical bite. Of course the strawberry and rhubarb are what make these muffins irresistible. The fruit is sweet but not aggressively so—the muffins remain pleasantly light and berry-ish. They're just the spring treat to eat at breakfast, and they still leave room for pie.