Fresh Rhubarb Fools w/ Scotch Oat Crunchies

Alright, so, I do understand that June is decidedly a summer month and we are no longer in the cool (and maliciously wet) hands of Spring…but I’m hoping this rhubarb recipe is tempting enough to defy the seasons. I did in fact make these beauties in May, but with my current job nearing its end things have gotten pretty insane around here; “busy” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Prep for the Big Move, grad school on the horizon, and my boyfriend finally (finally!) moving back in with me after a year away for his own studies just add to the distraction.

I paired these fools with an oat-based cookie after finding the homogeneous texture of the fluffy dessert a bit boring. Don’t get me wrong, the flavor of the fools was fantastic (there’s a secret way to cook the rhubarb I learned in making these, see Beezer’s Notes below), but I found myself yearning for a pie crust or some sort of crunch to pair with it. A bag of rolled oats had been sitting in my cupboard waiting to be made into Scotch Oat Crunchies – adorable little cookies listed as the top recipe for January 1943 in The Gourmet Cookie Book – and I thought that if the original recipe said these paired well with tart fruit jams than they would surely pair well with a tangy rhubarb dessert. For once, people, I was 100% correct!

Fresh Rhubarb Fool w/ Scotch Oat Crunchies

(from Spring Entertaining by Cook’s Illustrated ’10 and The Gourmet Cookie Book)

Ingredients:

For the Fools…

2¼  lb.  rhubarb, trimmed of ends and cut into 6″ pieces

1/3   C   juice from 1 large orange

1   C   sugar, plus 1 T

pinch of salt

2   C   cold heavy cream

For the Cookies…

1   C   unsalted butter, softened

1   C   light brown sugar

2½   C   AP or cake flour

½   t   baking powder

½   t   salt

2½   C   rolled oats

½   C   cold water

2 – 3 drops almond extract

¼   t   vanilla extract

Procedure:

  1. Submerge the 6″ stalks of rhubarb in 1 gallon of cold water and soak for 2o minutes.
  2. While the rhubarb is soaking, make the cookie dough: cream the butter until almost white then gradually add brown sugar and keep creaming until thoroughly blended. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and sift twice. Stir in rolled oats. In a third small bowl add almond and vanilla extract to water and set aside. Finally, alternating between the dry mixture and the water/extract, add both in small batches to the creamed butter/sugar blend. When all ingredients have been fully incorporated into dough, split it into two equal halves, roll each into balls, wrap in saran-wrap or wax paper, and chill for at least an hour.
  3. As the dough is chilling, drain rhubarb and pat dry with paper towels. Cut pieces crosswise into ½” thick slices. Bring orange juice, ¾ Cup sugar, and salt to boil in a medium non-reactive saucepan over Medium heat. Add rhubarb and return to boil, then reduce heat to Medium-low and simmer, stirring only a few times (frequent stirring causes the rhubarb to become mushy). Cook until the rhubarb is soft, but not falling apart – about 7 minutes. Transfer rhubarb to non-reactive bowl, cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold (at least 1 hr or up to 24).
  4. Once the dough and rhubarb mix have thoroughly chilled, preheat the oven for 350°F. Roll out the first half of dough on a floured work surface to about 1/8″ thick or as thin as possible. Cut into rounds about 2″ in diameter and use a broad spatula to lift cookies onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or until slightly browned. Cool cookies and store in an air-tight container. Repeat with second half of dough if desired or store for later. They will keep indefinitely in a cool, dry place.
  5. As cookies are cooling begin assembling the fools: beat cream and remaining sugar in a medium bowl on low speed until small bubbles form, about 45 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue until beaters leave a trail in the cream, about 45 seconds longer. Increase speed to high and continue beating until soft peaks form, about 30 seconds. Assemble the fool in parfait or wine glasses by carefully spooning about ¼ Cup rhubarb mixture into the bottom of the glass followed by an equal layer of whipped cream. Repeat until glasses have filled, ending with cream on top. Place a cookie or two on top of the fool for garnish and serve! Fools can be assembled in advance as well and covered and chilled for up to 6 hrs before serving – just save the cookie garnish for service.


Beezer’s Notes:

I’m so glad Cook’s Illustrated found a way to cook rhubarb so that it retains its bright red color without losing its tang. According to the source recipe, a professor of food science at Washington State University in Pullman, and confessed rhubarb enthusiast, Barry Swanson was consulted. Professor Swanson explained that “a water-soluble pigment called anthocyanin is responsible for rhubarb’s somewhat chalky, tannic mouthfeel as well as its bright pinkish-red color.” When you presoak or boil rhubarb in water – as most recipes call for –  a portion of the anthocyanin escapes which mellows its harsh bite but also its more desirable color. However, Swanson also said that anthocyanin is sensitive to the acidity of its environment: when the pH is high, the color shifts to bluish-grey; when the pH is low, the color becomes more red. From that, recipe developer Raquel Pelzel found success in presoaking her rhubarb in orange juice.

As for the final dessert itself, all my taste-testers (read: family) loved the marriage of the sweet, crunchy oat cookies with the smooth, tangy fools. Together, you could think of this dessert as a sort of deconstructed rhubarb pie. Also, because both the dough and rhubarb mixture requires chilling, this is a great make-ahead dessert for a party or picnic. You can pause at any point in the recipe (with the dough, the filling, or the finished fools) and return to it later. Finally, the cookie recipe makes a LOT of cookies. I ended up only baking one half of the dough and it was more than enough. I’m never one to complain about pre-made cookie dough ready and waiting in my freezer, but if you’re short on space feel free to half that part of the recipe above. 

Overall Enjoyment:    ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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Three-Layer Bliss

Let me start off by saying I named this dessert Three-Layer Bliss after the absolutely magical mixture of crumbly shortbread, puckering rhubarb, sweet strawberries, and fluffy meringue. Perfecting this recipe to be just what I wanted it to be, however, was anything but blissful.

I initially made this dessert in early June when the first beautiful red and green stalks of rhubarb appeared at my Co-Op. While the source recipe describes “the perfect springtime dessert”, the pilot attempt fell flat. I was convinced I knew what the problem was and that the solution would be a quick fix… but then this pattern continued through the second dish… and the third.

You, though, do not have to worry because I’ve figured it out! Minor issues aside, the fact that I was even able to eat this dessert three times in the span of a month goes to show how scrumptious it is! The recipe below is the final version so you can just go from there with no worries. If you’re curious how I came to this variation, look under Beezer’s Notes

Three-Layer Bliss

(adapted from Daphne West’s Rhubarb Cream Delight in the VT Make-A-Wish Cookbook)

Ingredients:

For the Crust…

1 ½   C     all-purpose flour

¾      C    butter (1 ½ sticks), chilled

3        T    sugar

For the Filling…

1         C     sugar*

4   egg yolks, beaten

2/3    C     evaporated milk

3        T     all-purpose flour

½      t       freshly grated nutmeg

2       C      chopped rhubarb

2       C      hulled and sliced strawberries

*Note: use more or less sugar depending on how sweet your berries are and according to your personal preference. I prefer a more tart filling (the source recipe calls for 2 Cups!) and my berries were fairly sweet. If using only strawberries and no rhubarb, I would suggest 2/3 C.

For the Meringue…

1       C     sugar

8    egg whites

Procedure:

  1. First prepare the crust (a basic shortbread). Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a food processor or pastry cutter combine the flour, chilled butter, and sugar until the mix resembles coarse meal. Press the dough into the bottom of a greased and floured 9 x 13″ baking dish and bake until lightly golden or about 20 minutes. Allow the crust to finish baking and set aside to cool before continuing.
  2. For the filling, combine sugar, flour, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. In another, combine egg yolks and evaporated milk. Add the wet mix to the dry and whisk until incorporated. Add the rhubarb – NOT strawberries – and toss gently until well coated. Pour the rhubarb/custard mix into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low heat stirring constantly (it can scald quickly!). Continue to cook until custard thickens and rhubarb is soft, but not mushy – about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the strawberries to the saucepan and cook for another 3-5 minutes to gently soften.
  4. Once the crust has returned to room temperature (or is at least warm and not hot), pour the filling on top of it and smooth with a spatula. Set aside.
  5. Beat egg whites on high until soft peaks form.………. Mix in sugar until glossy.
  6. ………………..……………………Pour meringue on as the final layer and smooth with a spatula. If desired, take a clean dry spoon and press the back of it gently into the meringue in neat rows, pulling up swiftly to form tiny peaks.
  7. Back the dish 5 – 10 minutes or until the meringue has lightly browned.

Beezer’s Notes:

Well, again, the fact that I could eat this large dessert three times in a single month should tell you it’s worth trying. The fact that I also ate the second and third attempts at perfecting this dish by myself should also convince you that Three-Layer Bliss is a darn good dessert, haha. I’ll confess I’ve always had a weakness for rhubarb and meringue. That said, even folks who don’t particularly like rhubarb tried it (remember those 4 helpings I mentioned in the beginning?) and were converted.

All those interested in the nitty-gritty: read on. All others, thanks for sticking with me this far – now go try this dessert! 🙂

The Adaptations: I. I reduced the sugar immediately (as per my usual with sweet recipes) and doubled the egg whites for the meringue (I really like meringue), but stayed true to the recipe for everything else the first time around. Unfortunately, the custard didn’t cook long enough and I also forgot to double the amount of sugar added to the meringue to make up for the extra egg whites. Oops. Thus, the first attempt had wonderful fruit, but a very runny center and egg-smelling top.


II. I continued to keep the sugar reduced and the meringue doubled (remembering to also double the meringue sugar this time!). I also cooked the filling three times as long (5 minutes to 15) which resulted in a wonderfully thickened custard (yay!). My mistake here was to keep the fruit in the custard for the longer cooking time – the finished dessert had a decent consistency, perfect meringue, but mushy and flavorless strawberries…


III. Sugar reduced: check. Meringue sugar doubled: check. Fruit added to the custard at the end: check. This time? Perfect crust. Perfect meringue. Perfect custard. Flavorful and juicy strawberries… and rock-hard rhubarb that made your mouth pucker. *sigh* I decided against snapping a third shot since the finished products all look the same anyway, and by this point I was fairly discouraged.

IV. But stubbornness prevails! Cook the rhubarb with the custard and add the strawberries at the end, of course! Finally, since I make mine rather tart I also like adding a small drizzle of honey over the top before serving. Mmmm, success sure is sweet…


Overall Enjoyment: ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥



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