An Exploration Through Rhubarb
by Ryan Butler (Pastry Chef, Double Crown, NYC)

Photo courtesy of Double Crown

In the realm of contemporary pastry, employing a multitude of textures in plated desserts allows the chef to access seemingly endless creative approaches, thereby transforming even the simplest ingredients.

One Ingredient Exponentially
Through a focus on textures, the pastry chef can offer guests a variety of taste experiences created from the various interplays of frozen, cool and warm temperatures with crisp, soft, and chewy elements; all developed from one core ingredient or flavor. Concentration on a single ingredient, complemented with one or two additional minor elements, prevents overcrowding the dish and presents a visually impressive and wonderfully flavored result.

The Oft-Neglected Rhubarb
An excellent example of this method features a one of my favorite ingredients, the often misunderstood and always underestimated rhubarb. The tart, crimson-colored vegetable may scare some but always has my fellow devotees yearning for rhubarb on the dessert plate.

The first tip for to the rhubarb non-believer is to learn about its versatility. A great basic recipe to start with is rhubarb jam, made by simply chopping the rhubarb, adding sugar and lemon and cooking down. Simple but elegant. For a great variation, swirl the jam into a batch of vanilla bean ice cream and you have two very basic components creating a delicious, balanced combination with great texture and visual appeal; the rhubarb ripple. Basic but very satisfying.

Tacking On More Texture
The building of textures in our pastry kitchen is a constant pursuit remembered by every member of my team. In the case of our rhubarb desserts that process often begins with a basic rhubarb stock acting as the foundation of many of the dishes. Ours is simply prepared with water, sugar and a selection of Southeast Asian aromatics, all combined with the rhubarb then brought to a simmer and strained.

Starting with this fundamental component we are able to create numerous dishes with diverse and unique textures on the plate. The stock is frozen into a sorbet or can be carbonated to make a bubbly soda with great color. A favorite approach is to set the stock with gelatin, creating a gelée that is cut and manipulated to offer the diner a cool temperature element and interesting mouth feel.

21st Century Applications
Using the latest generation of food technologies also opens up new opportunities for developing interesting texture combinations.

We use our rhubarb jam blended with a little egg white and starch that has been spread thin and left to dry overnight in a food dehydrator. The result is a crisp texture with intense flavor that adds an appealing crunch to a plate.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, whipping a small amount of egg white powder with the rhubarb stock creates an airy, bubbly texture that is visually pleasing.

Many Textures, One Dessert
One popular dessert we do at Double Crown is the candied rhubarb with kaffir lime crème, and palm sugar shortbread; this dessert combines several of the rhubarb textures in one composition. Adding a buttery shortbread and a kefir lime cream complements the dish but preserves the rhubarb component as the star. This combination of textures and techniques elevates the humble rhubarb, making for a delicious and visually dynamic dish.

Rhubarb is one of my favorite fruits to use this time of year, yet it is just one of the many fruits passing through your pastry kitchen which can be manipulated to produce a variety of textures and create an exciting dessert experience for your guests.

Candied Rhubarb With Kaffir Lime Cream and Palm Sugar Shortbread

Cassia short bread
80 grams cooked egg yolk***
160 grams sugar
160 grams butter
225 grams all purpose flour
18 grams baking powder
10 grams cassia
Combine sugar, yolks, butter cream in the mixer till light and fluffy add in the dry ingredients just till combined.
Press dough into a medium baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Rhubarb jam
10 stalks of crimson rhubarb
200 grams sugar
2 stalks of lemongrass
100 grams lemon juice
20 grams of salt
Chop rhubarb into small pieces.
Mix with sugar, lemon juice, and salt stir together in a medium pot with a heavy bottom and add the lemongrass.
Boil the mixture together till the mixture becomes to a boil.

Kaffir lime meringue
4 kaffir lime leaves minced
25 gram of panko
25 grams of almond flour
40 grams of 10x sugar
75 grams egg white
50 grams sugar
Grind all dry ingredients in a coffee grind till it become a smooth powder.
In a small mixer whip the egg whites to medium peaks.
When they reach maximum volume add sugar and mix for one minute.
Fold in the dry ingredients in three additions then pipe the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper bake in a 120 degree oven for 2 hours cool store in a air tight container

***Boil eggs for twelve minutes then cool in an ice bath peel