Friday, April 9, 2010

Rhubarb Trifle


Most impressive dessert I've ever made. I can hardly believe its glory!

I love rhubarb. It's probably my favorite pie - not with strawberries (at least not cooked), just on its own. So tangy and wonderful. I keep trying to grow it in my garden, but it never seems to quite take off (probably needs more water). I have high hopes for this year though. Just started seeing it in the grocery store, so I had to get some!

I had a rhubarb trifle once before, in a fancy "gastropub" in London, but the rhubarb sauce was very sour and the cream not very sweet. It was so great in concept, but I figured I could do better.

I've never made a trifle before, so of course I consulted the Joy of Cooking. They say that you can use any kind of leftover cake, and I had a box of cake mix sitting around, so I just whipped that up. The rhubarb sauce is super easy, you just slice the rhubarb about 1" thick (I used 6-8 stalks), and simmer them with a little water and sugar to taste (I used maybe 1/3 cup).

Now, for the slightly tricky part - Creme Anglaise, a smooth custard sauce, to which I added some orange zest to complement the rhubarb. The technique is quite important - if you heat the sauce above 170F, it will curdle.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups cream
9 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
orange zest

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl. Cook the milk over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring, until bubbles form around the edges. Very gradually, whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Return this mixture to the saucepan and set over low heat. Rinse and dry the bowl, and set a fine-mesh sieve over the top. Using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon (they make better contact with the bottom of the pan so you can feel what's going on better), stir the sauce gently but constantly, making sure you're getting the entire bottom and corners of the pan.

The sauce is getting close to done when the foam dissipates from the top, and you can feel tiny bubbles as you're scraping the bottom. Suddenly, the sauce will acquire body and a slight sheen - take it off the heat, and continue stirring for another 2 minutes, then pour through the sieve back into the bowl. If you suddenly realize you've overdone it, quickly pour it through the sieve to arrest the cooking, and keep stirring to cool it. If it has gotten a little grainy, you can try running it in the blender a bit to smooth it out. At this point I added the orange zest, or if you like you could add 2 tsp vanilla. For trifle, the sauce needs to be refrigerated until cold. Stirring it periodically during the first 10 minutes of cooling will keep a skin from forming.

Assembling the trifle:
Put a layer of cake in the bottom of the bowl, and drizzle it with a bit of brandy (or other sweet liquor or wine) if desired. Put a layer of custard sauce (about half of it) over this. Then gently spoon about half the rhubarb sauce on top. Repeat with another layer of cake, custard, then rhubarb. Top with whipped cream. I happened to have some fresh strawberries, so I put them on for garnish, with a little extra orange zest. Wow!! I also made a couple of extra little ones because I couldn't fit all the good stuff into one dish.
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