Rhubarb fool with almond praline
Rhubarb fool is an English dessert of whipped cream and fruit, similar to a trifle but without the pomp and ceremony. Personally, I’ve never been clear on who is the fool, and reports vary wildly. Gooseberries were traditionally used, but I find the dish works just as well with rhubarb. Fresh raspberries mashed with a fork and a small amount of icing sugar are an indulgent alternative. Anything with a little acid and an assertive flavour is welcome.
For some reason, I default to British desserts at home – puddings, trifle, and so on – which may be genetic but I suspect is mostly for the simplicity. A lot of these desserts are very honest. For the fool, the only drawback can be a fairly uniform texture. Some would say one-dimensional. I’ve added an almond praline to combat this and add a little crunch.
We should talk a bit about cream. Chefs have a tendency to bang on about the quality of ingredients – to other chefs and to family and friends – and there is a good reason for that. It matters. Cream is no different. It’s worth the extra dollar a litre to source cream from a smaller dairy. Some cream on the market contains gelatin and this should be avoided – it creates a consistent texture but is otherwise unnecessary. Good cream is really a flavour. You can get richness and texture from most cream, but only good cream contributes a unique taste to a dish.
Cream can be cultured or clotted. Clotted cream is a process of heating or steaming cream to add thickness – the clots that form bring out the best qualities of cream. Cultured cream is made by adding lactic acid to cream and leaving it at about 20 degrees Celsius for 24 hours, thus thickening the cream and developing the flavour. In the restaurant we use buttermilk as a starter – one tablespoon per litre. Once it’s cultured we cool it down and whip it like we would a normal cream. It has a light, sour flavour bordering on mascarpone cheese.
This recipe for rhubarb fool can take the addition of subtle flavours such as vanilla. I’ve heard of the addition of rolled oats to the caramel in place of almonds, which works for the nut intolerant and the thrifty Brit.
Baked meringue is a very good substitute for the almond praline in this recipe. The addition of meringue transforms the fool into Eton mess. Eton mess is a signature English dessert first served in the tuckshop of the English boarding school Eton.
– 1 bunch of rhubarb
– ¼ cup castor sugar
– ½ cup orange juice
– 1 cup crème fraîche
– 1 cup cream
– 1 vanilla bean or vanilla extract
– 3 tbsp castor sugar
– 2 tsp rose water
– 100g almonds
– 120g sugar
– 2 tbsp water
To prepare the rhubarb discard the leaves and the base of each stem. Wash and pat dry and cut into two-centimetre dice.
In a saucepan bring the sugar and orange juice to a simmer. Add the rhubarb to the hot orange juice and gently cook for 10-15 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally. When cooked, transfer the rhubarb to a small bowl and cool in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, make the almond praline. Roast the almonds for four to five minutes or until the skins are blistering. Take the nuts from the oven and slide onto a tea towel. Rub the nuts to dislodge the skins. Remove any excess skin with a small knife and discard. In a heavy-based saucepan dissolve the sugar and two tablespoons of water and place over a high heat. When the sugar becomes a deep caramel colour add the nuts and stir quickly to coat evenly with the caramel. Pour the praline onto a clean lightly oiled tray. When cool, break the praline into large chunks and chop to a fine powder with a knife. You will need about four tablespoons. Any remaining praline can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer.
Combine the crème fraîche and heavy cream in a large mixing bowl, scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean and whisk in the sugar. Continue to whisk until the cream comes to soft peaks (just starting to thicken). Before assembling the fool, stir the rose water into the cooled rhubarb. Take four whisky or martini glasses and add two tablespoons of rhubarb, follow by two tablespoons of whipped cream and a pinch of chopped praline. Repeat this layering process twice or until the glass is full and the ingredients are distributed evenly. Place the fool in the fridge for an hour or so. Top the fool with a generous amount of chopped praline just before serving.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 17, 2015 as "I pretty the fool". Subscribe here.