Like many a convert, I have become more passionate and vocal about the cause of rhubarb than those who might have grown up believing in its magic. I invariable have an 'Oooh, rhubarb!' moment if I see it mentioned in a recipe book or spot its pinkness on display at the market. This Saturday afternoon will be spent planting my fruits and vegetables for the season, with rhubarb included among the seeds I've bought (that is, if the weather holds. And it better, since I've just stuck the laundry outside).
This recipe for rhubarb ice cream so caught my eye that I finally bought an ice cream maker because of it. The ice cream maker had been on the wish list for a while, particularly because we only eat non-diary ice cream in the A&N house and it can be very hard to come by in the UK. Now that we have a kitchen big enough to hold gadgets, the ice cream maker jumped the gadget queue and was designated my next birthday present (in June, perfect for the start of ice cream season). But, as rhubarb isn't available in June, I ignored all that had been decided and bought the ice cream maker last week. Some would point fingers and say I lacked patience, but I'll just point out I've wanted that ice cream maker for a time that spans years, so really, I've been very patient indeed.
The ice cream is made with a custard base with stewed rhubarb and its syrup added into the mix shortly before the end. The picture of the finished dessert in cookbook was enchanting - a delicate pink cloud of creaminess, the frozen-egg-and-cream equivalent of Cinderella when she puts on her slipper or Snow White when she wakes from her slumber. The custard base led me to think of serving meringues with it to use up the egg whites, furthering the delicate airy nature of the dessert. It was enough to make me stick my arm out the window for the birds to perch on as I sang to them and whipped up my kitchen delights.
Clearly I was deluded, and I should have known that a first attempt at something rarely produces stunning effects. The basic vanilla ice cream was luscious and didn't taste or feel compromised by the thinner soya cream and milk we added to it. I think the problem came from the rhubarb (*gasp!* Not the magic rhubarb!). The rhubarb didn't break apart enough once it was added, and since it was late-season rhubarb I probably should have cooked it longer than I did. The bigger problem was the syrup. Again, I probably should have cooked it down further, added it in sooner, and made sure it was cold rather than just cooled, but as soon as it was poured into the ice cream it turned the ice cream texture into a liquid from which it never recovered. The meringues were crushed while being juggled around the oven to accommodate other things.
It still tasted wonderful, but the rhubarb chunks suffered once they were put into the freezer, becoming solid crystalized masses that reminded you where every one of your fillings were and made you shrink back a bit in the remembered-pain of having had cavities. Tips for future ice cream making were learned, and more may follow, but I'm still looking forward to the ice cream season with excitement. As well as my birthday, now that I have another present coming to me.
Winter Rhubarb Ice Cream, from Skye Gyngell's A Year in My Kitchen Ice cream base:
- 450 ml double cream
- 150 ml whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
- 6 large egg yolks
- 120 g caster sugar
- 1kg rhubarb
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
- 180 g caster sugar
- 150 ml verjuice or water
- Start by making the custard base: pour the cream and milk into a heavy-based pan an place over a low heat.
- Scrape the seeds and place the seeds and the pod into the cream mixture.
- Slowly bring to the boil, remove from heat and set aside for 15 minutes so it can infuse.
- Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a separate bowl until the mixture
- turns thicker and paler.
- Gently reheat the cream mixture and pour it into the eggs, whisking as it's poured.
- Place everything, now combined, into the pan and heat over the lowest possible heat, stirring until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 6 - 8 minutes).
- Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl to cool.
- Wash and trim the rhubarb, then cut into 2 inch/5 cm chunks.
- Place rhubarb in a saucepan with the vanilla pod, sugar, and verjuice/water. Turn the heat onto medium and stir gently to start the rhubarb off.
- Bring to a simmer, then turn heat down to cook gently for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. The rhubarb should be soft and on the verge of falling apart (if using later season rhubarb, you may need to cook for closer to 20 minutes).
- Remove the rhubarb and set aside in a dish. Taste the syrup to make sure it's both tart and sweet at the same time (adjust for taste if needed) and turn the heat up to simmer away half the syrup.
- Pour over the rhubarb and allow to cool completely.
- Once the custard is cooled, pour into the ice cream maker. Just before the ice cream sets, pour in the cooled rhubarb and syrup, and churn for a further 10 minutes.