Where’s (rhu)Barb?

Spring is here and the rhubarb has started to appear in the grocery stores. One of the happy coincidences of moving to the U.K. is that the pucker-inducing vegetable is a staple of fruity British desserts. Rhubarb grew like a weed on the farm in South Dakota so it definitely reminds me of home. Knowing this, a bundle of giant stalks sitting on the supermarket shelf jumped out at me.

It seemed like a trifecta of perfection –

1. make a new spring-y dessert to beckon the sun and warmer weather

2. give Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh a test drive

3. revisit my youth, sitting with a cup of plain white sugar and dipping the raw rhubarb stalk into the sugar before each bite (is this not how everyone eats rhubarb as a five-year-old?)

Well, let me be the one to admit that it wasn’t so simple.

The recipe in question looked easy enough, the Custard Yo-Yo’s with roasted rhubarb icing. (Yo-Yo’s are an Australian cookie, and rhubarb and custard is a pretty British flavor combo.) Alice Bakes a Cake has a pretty good version of the recipe on her blog, here.

The cookies themselves came together easily and the custard powder gave them a gentle and soft texture while still being pretty sturdy. I think this might be the only acceptable use for custard powder. They’re really cute little guys.

As usual, photography by Dan Leonard

Now, the rhubarb icing quickly became the problem child. I followed the instructions to the T and ended up with soup. In my mind, adding more of the powdered sugar would solve this issue. My thought process was: powdered sugar is finely ground sugar with a bit of cornstarch -> cornstarch thickens stuff -> so more sugar will thicken the icing. It did not have this effect. What I ended up with was a gritty sugar soup.

I don’t often fail spectacularly, but this was definitely a spectacular fail. My first thought was to throw it out the window and yell at it. But my second thought was to search through the Food52 Baking Club posts (which, for the uninitiated, is an awesomely supportive group of people on Facebook who pick a book to bake through each month, posting results and questions and Helen Goh just happens to be a member of that group). I hoped someone smarter than I had addressed this icing issue and would assuage my pain.

As it turns out, I wasn’t alone and Helen addressed it perfectly. She said that after moving to the U.K. from Australia she, too, had questionable results and thinks the varying levels of corn starch actually give it the glue-y texture. (So I just made it worse by adding more sugar…) And suggested that the addition of egg white may help curb this problem. The addition of egg white is the difference between a standard powdered sugar glaze and royal icing, so this seems like a reasonable suggestion. My plan is to give the icing another go, using the royal icing sugar that is sitting in the back of my cabinet.

In the meantime, Dan and I did manage to get a couple of these under our belt so I know the potential is great!

Today’s beginner philosophy lesson brought to you by: The Trolley Dilemma

The history of the Trolley Dilemma (or trolley problem) goes back to the 1950s but in its modern incarnation was introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967. At its most basic, it poses this problem to an individual: you’re travelling in a trolley and the brakes suddenly go. On your current track are five people, tied-up and facing certain death but if you pull the lever, moving your trolley car to the adjacent track, there is one person tied-up and unable to move. You have only these two options, do you stay on your current track and kill five innocent people or do you pull the lever and thus killing one innocent person? Which is more ethical?

This is a famous problem in the study of Ethics. It forces an individual to come to reckoning with their own moral code. If you are interested in learning a bit more (or are a visual learner) BBC Radio 4 has a really nice video on YouTube that explains this thought in a bit more depth.

Glossary of Terms for today:

Powdered sugar = confectioner’s sugar/icing sugar/10X sugar

Corn starch = corn flour (but not masa/maize)

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