or, a Rhubarbershop Quartet featuring:
1. Rhubarb Crumble – a deconstructed version of the classic, delicious hot or cold (with optional extra decadence – the Rhubarbra Streisand)
2. Variations: Rhubarb Crumble Ice Cream – an even more summery version combining the elements of fruit, custard and crumble and Rhubarb Trifle – the classic version, layered up with jelly and whipped cream
3. Poached rhubarb ideas – pavlova and porridge topping
4. Rhubarb Gin – recipe from a very clever Scottish friend (Irn Brubarb)
Let’s start with the crumble, which sounds like nursery food, doesn’t it? Apple, pear or plum crumbles, generously spiced with preserved ginger, are one of my favourite winter desserts. Decadent banoffee crumble, with a layer of dulce de leche blanketing the caramelised bananas, is another favourite.
But this is a crumble for summer, when rhubarb is in season, and you can even serve it cold – with just-poached rhubarb, custard and a burnished ginger biscuity-like crumble topping sprinkled on top. A bit like a simplified trifle. We made this in the Lake District with blushing stalks of rhubarb from the garden, which turn rosy rather than rusty when cooked – very gently, poached instead of stewed so that they still hold their shape.
For the custard, I cheated and used tinned Ambrosia – a convenient choice, since we’d come back from a long walk, but actually for this purpose it really works rather well. The sunny hue looks just right with the pink rhubarb, by which I mean exactly like rhubarb and custard boiled sweets. And the mouthfeel is actually just right in this case, just like a childhood pudding! Back in London, with supermarket rhubarb and an inclination to cook, I might make a batch of thick patisserie cream as the crumble accompaniment, with all the meditative stirring that entails, or use good bought vanilla ice cream (by which I don’t mean expensive, but I do mean good – Lidl’s gelato-style, which has more vanilla seeds than any other, is my preference) or cool, tangy frozen yoghurt (more of a method than a recipe, but buried in my recipe here), or just a drizzle of very cold cream.
In the past, I’ve made a dinner party version with patisserie cream, rhubarb, white chocolate sauce (100g fancy white chocolate, chopped and stirred into 100ml of double cream brought just to simmering point and then taken off the heat) and crushed meringue instead of crumble – a shameless copy of a restaurant dessert which was completely irresistible. Definitely a treat because it’s pretty full on.
For the crumble – I bake it separately, like a biscuit, as the rhubarb’s abundant juices tend to make at least some of it a bit claggy – and for this crumble, the summery joy is at least in part due to the distinctiveness of the three elements – the rosy, tart fruit, still holding its shape, the cool luxury of the smooth custard, and finally the sweet and spicy dark gold crumble on top.
Any or all of these elements can be made in advance.
Recipe: poached Rhubarb
800g rhubarb (red rather than green, given the choice – and slender pink stems of champagne rhubarb are the very nicest if you can find them)
about 150g caster or granulated sugar, to taste (I like it quite tart)
optional: 2-3 orbs of preserved ginger in syrup, chopped into 0.5cm cubes
1. Wash and trim the rhubarb and slice into 2.5cm pieces for the thin stems, and 1cm pieces for the thicker stems.
2. Put the rhubarb in a saucepan with the juice and zest of the orange, the sugar and the ginger, if using, and stir to combine
3. Cover the pan and cook on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and there is some steam (a few minutes). Stir gently, to ensure the rhubarb is cooking evenly – careful at this point because it gets to the point of collapse quite quickly. When some of the rhubarb is giving off liquid, stir again so that the most intact pieces are submerged, cover and remove from the heat. Taste and see if you need to add any more sugar. Leave to cool.
At this point you can use your poached rhubarb in a few different ways – stir into plain yoghurt to make a healthy, refreshing fool (or freeze this in ice lolly moulds for an elegant, marbled treat). Like me, my father-in-law enjoys a bowl of porridge every morning – and unlike me, he undertook a charity cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and missed his normal breakfast fare until reaching Scotland, where he was delighted to be offered proper porridge at a B&B. The proprietor suggested he have it with rhubarb, which my father-in-law, who dislikes rhubarb, declined at first – but he sounded so certain, and promised it would produce “an extra flavour dimension” – and that was irresistably persuasive to my father-in-law, who happens to be a brilliant professor of physics. And…was it? I asked, when he told me this story. Apparently it was not, he said, sounding like a man who has learned to take physics hyperbole with a quantum of salt.
I rather like the tart, complex flavour of rhubarb as a pavlova topping – my normal recipe but using soft brown sugar instead of white.
RECIPE: summer rhubarb crumble
One quantity poached rhubarb (as above)
Custard (2x tins of Ambrosia) or patisserie cream (a double quantity of my recipe here)
For the crumble:
200g plain flour
1 Tbsp ground ginger (optional)
50g light demerara sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking sheet with parchment
2. Cube the butter and place it in a large mixing bowl with the flour. Rub the flour into the fat until mixture resembles breadcrumbs, and spoon in the ginger and sugar and rub in to combine
3. Bake for 8-10 minutes until burnished but careful not to let it burn – stir halfway through if neccessary to ensure even cooking
4. Serve the poached rhubarb and custard (warmed through or cold) and crumble over the topping
Variation: Rhubarb Crumble Ice Cream
Instead of the custard/patisserie cream, make a quantity of custard-based ice cream (as per my recipe for bramble and brown bread ice cream, but ripple through chilled poached rhubarb instead of jam, and ginger crumble instead of brown bread praline)
Variation: Rhubarb Trifle
Either in one large bowl or in individual dishes, layer the crumble (or some cake, or amaretti biscuits) at the bottom, then make a rhubarb jelly with the poached rhubarb and liquid (you may not need it all! In the photo we used about 500ml) and leaf gelatine, as per packet instructions. Then make a layer of custard in the same way as the patisserie cream but with 250ml milk, 250ml cream, 2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk, 50g sugar, 50g cornflour and 1tsp vanilla – slightly adapted from Mary Berry’s recipe) and top with whipped cream (300ml, whipped).
Finally, and well done if you’ve made it this far down this epic post – after all that, how about a refreshing Rhubarb G&T? The following is a family recipe from a genius friend who grows her own rhubarb (Stockbridge Arrow) and it has become a house favourite for us! Reproduced word for word with her kind permission:
1kg Rhubarb (equivalent to 600g when trimmed), 300g Sugar, 1 litre Gin. Chop rhubarb & chuck into airtight jars, add sugar then the gin. Seal jars & shake to mix. Shake daily until sugar fully dissolved. Store in cool, dark place for at least 3 months to allow flavours to fully infuse.
This makes a wonderful blushing drink, a little tarter and more traditional in flavour than my Quince Gin, but also wonderful served in glasses clinking with ice and garnished with a thin slice of lemon.