This is my homage to Richard Briers, a rhubarb and custard pudding: clouds of meringue sailing away on vanillary custard, with poached rhubarb nudging up alongside.
The rhubarb – kept tart and cooked with star anise – does wonders balancing out the dense sweetness of the traditional oeufs a la neige. All that vanilla and sugar can get a bit much otherwise. A class act, lots of fun and sure to lift the spirits. That’s both the pudding and the man.
(If you’re wondering what I’m going on about, give Richard Briers a quick google and I envy you discovering his work for the first time. He was a brilliant comic actor who, sadly, died last week. Star of The Good Life sitcom in the ’70s and as the voice of Roobarb and Custard cartoon was the sound of a generation’s childhood.)
Roobarb a la Neige – serves 4
The rhubarb and custard can be made up to a couple of days ahead. The meringues a few hours before. And then you just build it when it’s time to serve.
- 5 large eggs
- 500ml full fat milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 325g caster sugar
- 200g seasonal rhubarb
- 2 star anise, broken up slightly
- Rub the cut side of a lemon all around the inside of a large mixing bowl. That is the bowl you should use for the egg whites – the lemon takes away any grease that would prevent your meringues getting sufficiently peaked.
- Separate the eggs – all the yolks into one bowl, and just three of the whites into the bowl that has been lemonned. That will leave you two whites spare to use for something else.
For the custard:
- Whisk 225g of the caster sugar into the bowl of egg yolks.
- Put the milk into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod in half down its middle, scrape out the seeds and the whole lot goes into the milk pan. Once the milk has started to boil, take it off the heat and throw away the vanilla pod.
- Gradually pour the milk into the egg mixture a little at a time, passing the milk through a small sieve as it goes in. After each addition give it a good whisk.
- Now the milk etc goes into a clean saucepan over a low heat. Keep whisking until the custard thickens to something rather like double cream. It’ll take about 10 minutes. Go slowly and be very careful not to let the custard got too hot or it will just curdle. Pour the custard into a jug, cover and chill.
For the rhubarb:
Preheat the oven to 160C.
- Cut the ends off the rhubarb – there’s no need to peel it. Slice into 5cm lengths and sit these in a single layer in a baking dish. Scatter over 3tbsp water and the star anise. Also a small half tbsp of sugar (which you can pinch from the caster sugar that’s not been used yet), but that isn’t necessary if the rhubarb is forced or young. It’s only the older, thicker stalks which will be too tart and need more sweetening up.
- Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes until the rhubarb is tender to the point of a knife.
- Take the rhubarb out – leaving behind the liquid and star anise, you don’t need that – and chill until needed.
For the meringues:
- Half fill your widest pan with water and get it simmering.
- Use a machine whisk on its fastest setting to whip into stiff peaks the egg whites which have been patiently waiting for their moment. Fold in 100g of caster sugar in two stages and give it another whisk.
- Now you need to poach the meringues. You could use two dessert spoons to make smooth quenelles – basically scooping out with one spoon and using the second to shape it. But in this instance I prefer to embrace the earthy Good Life-ness of imperfectly shaped meringues. So just spoon some out and push each blob into the water. Don’t overcrowd the pan – the meringues will expand slightly as they cook.
- Flip the meringues over half way through their cooking. A dessert spoon of meringue will need a minute or so each side. When each one is puffed up and set, remove with a slotted spoon, rest the spoon on a cloth to remove excess water, and then sit the meringues on baking paper until needed. If your oeufs won’t neige and come out a bit sad and flat, then you have probably overcooked them.
To build your Roobarb a la Neige:
Ladle some custard into each serving dish and gently sit (three?) meringues onto the custard. Then simply arrange the rhubarb aloft.
You’ve got your rhubarb, got your custard, so all together now:
Na-na na naah, na-na na naah…