Fool. I have no idea who dreamed up this wonderful name for a dessert, and frankly, I don’t even know if it’s commonly used in the U.S., but fools of the rhubarb and even gooseberry variety, take me right back to the summers of my childhood.
They evoke a different time, a post-war generation in which easy to grow, often sour, foods like rhubarb–which after all is just a pretty pink stalk bearing giant poisonous leaves–were made into something palatable and dessert-like. In an era when ingredients like sugar, fresh eggs, and cream, were a rationed scarcity, fools must have seemed frothy and even luxurious. My mother, having learned these tricks from my grandmother, often made desserts like this to round-off our Sunday lunches.
There were a few reasons I was compelled to experiment with this recipe. Since the beginning of this year I’ve had to steer clear of dairy and I’ve been dying to find out whether full fat coconut milk can be whipped and used in desserts. Then I saw David Leibowitz’s recent post on Strawberry Rhubarb Compote and immediately wanted to turn it into a fool. Oh, and I wanted to make a dessert that seems like a treat without being loaded with sugar. As Monkey said on sampling the end result, “This is the best sour dessert I’ve ever had!”. I personally don’t think it’s all that sour, but you can easily dial the sweetness up or down according to your preference.
Ingredients (serves six):
– 6 large stalks of rhubarb; trim the ends and cut into 1.5 inch lengths (you could also add a few sliced strawberries for natural sweetness and a deeper red hue)
– 1-2 tbsps of agave syrup
– 4 tbsps of water
– 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1/2-3/4 can of coconut milk – use full fat only and chill overnight before whipping
– Zest of one lemon, organic, natch (and wash it first)
- Put the chopped rhubarb, strawberries (if you’re using them), agave syrup, cinnamon and water, in a saucepan over a medium heat and slowly bring to the boil.
- Once the liquid starts to boil, turn down to a low heat and allow to simmer for about five to ten minutes. You don’t want the rhubarb to turn to mush, but you do want it to be completely soft.
- Pull off the heat and allow to cool before setting in the fridge for a couple of hours. Just like dating, it’s important that both parties – the rhubarb and the coconut milk – play it cool when they meet, otherwise the coconut milk will melt away leaving the pretty pink rhubarb standing there wondering what went wrong.
- Take your chilled can of coconut milk out of the fridge and using a high speed whisk (I used my trusty Kitchenaid stand mixer) whisk the coconut milk up into a frenzy. Okay, a couple of things. One, this ain’t no whipping cream so you’re not going to get quite the same stand-up results, but it’s close. Second, from what I can tell it won’t turn into butter if you look away, but don’t quote me on that. I probably whipped the coconut milk for about 90 seconds to two minutes. It pretty much doubled in volume and became light and airy.
- Taste your rhubarb compote. If it’s too sour then you could add a little more agave syrup but go one teaspoon at a time because it’s tooth-achingly sweet. If you’ve used strawberries, you probably won’t need any more sweetness.
- Next you want to introduce the pretty chilled rhubarb to the voluminous coconut milk. Start by adding a couple of spoons of the whipped milk to the rhubarb to lighten it. Then using a metal spoon, very slowly fold in the rest. You want to do it mindfully and with care to keep the air and lightness in.
- Lastly, using a microplane zester if you have one, add the zest of one lemon for a little brightness.
- Spoon into small glasses to serve and top with a sprig of fresh mint which adds a nice dimension of flavor if you eat it. Chill if you’re not serving right away but pull out of the fridge about 10 minutes before serving.
Note: I’ve never seen a gooseberry here – they’re prickly green berries that grow on bushes, similar in size to a grape but not sweet – but you could just as easily make this dessert using gooseberries.