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I have an unexplainable fascination with rhubarb. Perhaps I spent time on the English countryside in a previous life. Whatever the reason, I always make sure to get my hands on some rhubarb this time of year. So far this season, I’ve made two different batches of rhubarb jam – one with kumquats, one with cherries. But what I really wanted was a fool.
Rhubarb fool is one of those quintessentially English desserts. It’s very simple, featuring stewed rhubarb and softly whipped cream. It’s just what you want to eat in the summer. It’s light. It’s just sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not so sweet that you feel sluggish afterwards.
This particular fool, or pud as the author calls it, features a few splashes of Pernod and brandy. Pernod is an anise flavored liqueur, similar in taste to absinthe but with a fraction of the alcohol content. It provides a bit of mystique to the rhubarb without being overpowering. What I was most pleasantly surprised by was the toasted breadcrumbs that serve as a topping for this fool. Crunchy, buttery, and just a bit sugary, it’s the perfect contrast to the delicate whipped cream and tangy rhubarb. You’ll want to put those crumbs on everything. And you should.
boozy rhubarb fool
adapted from Thomasina Miers via delicious magazine
2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch chunks
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
zest and juice of 1 lemon, or 1/2 orange
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 3 tablespoons
1-2 tablespoons brandy to taste
1-2 tablespoons Pernod or other pastis to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup stale breadcrumbs (preferably sourdough)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Add the rhubarb, vanilla seeds and pod, and lemon or orange juice to a large pot over medium heat. Cook, covered, for 10-15 minutes until the fruit has softened. Add 3/4 cup sugar, brandy, and Pernod and gently stir. Remove and discard the vanilla bean. Set aside rhubarb to cool.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the breadcrumbs in the butter along with a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon sugar, stirring constantly for five minutes or until the crumbs are golden and crisp. Set aside to cool.
Whip the heavy cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until soft peaks form.
Layer the rhubarb and whipped cream alternately in eight 6-8 ounce glasses or jars or one large glass bowl. Begin with a layer of rhubarb, followed by a layer of whipped cream, followed by a second layer of rhubarb, and top with whipped cream. Finish with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and a few strips of zest. Serve immediately.
*note: The rhubarb and breadcrumbs may be prepared a day in advance. Refrigerate the rhubarb until ready to assemble. Store the breadcrumbs in an airtight container in a dry place. You will need to whip the cream and zest the lemon/orange just before assembling.