Coupe of poached rhubarb, vanilla ice cream and spiced cookie crisps

Serves: 4 generously, with leftover compote and shortdough

The Brits had it right when, in the first half of the 19th century,  they began the tradition of pairing rhubarb with custard. The creamy mellowing effect of dousing cooked, slightly sweetened rhubarb with an egg custard,  or baking the fruit in a pie or tart with a custard poured over it seems unbeatable. Though bettering what is perfect might seem impossible, I humbly submit the following idea, a simple weeknight dessert. Here I take the fruit into a new but related direction. It’s first cooked lightly, minimally sweetened, and then dolloped over a scoop of custard-based (read: Philadelphia-style) vanilla ice cream. If you can serve the fruit warm over the ice cream, you will be adding one more layer of pleasure. Finally, top it all off with a  generous sprinkling of freshly baked spiced shortbread shattered into crumbs of various sizes.

Note: An hour or more before you wish to serve the dessert, place 4 serving plates or bowls into the freezer. .

Here’s the order of things:

Buy the best quality vanilla ice cream you can find in your local store (or better yet, make your own)

Source fresh rhubarb from the farmers’ market or any good supermarket in your area

Make the spiced short dough and refrigerate (this can be made the day in advance, chilled overnight, and then baked within a few hours of using, for maximum wonderfulness)

The ingredients:

1 lb. fresh rhubarb, ends removed, and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes

3 ounces (approximately scant half cup) granulated sugar

Enough water to thinly cover the bottom of the saucepan, to avoid burning the fruit

1 pint of good quality vanilla ice cream

Spiced shortbread (recipe follows)

For the rhubarb compote:

Place the rhubarb, sugar and water into a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat just until the rhubarb is tender but not disintegrating. Remove from the heat and cool. Place into a container with a tightfitting lid and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve the dessert. (You may rewarm the compote in a saucepan over low heat, just before serving, if you wish).

For the spiced shortbread: 

8 ounces (scant 2 c.) all-purpose flour

1 t. ground dried ginger

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/4 t. salt

6 ounces unsalted butter

2 ounces (approximately1/3 cup) granulated sugar

1 large egg

Mix the flour,  spices and salt together. Set aside. Using a mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment or a food processor outfitted with the steel knife attachment, process the butter until softened and creamy. Add the sugar and mix until blended. Add the egg and mix until it disappears into the mixture and then finally add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear. Remove from the processor or mixing bowl and place on a lightly floured surface. Compress the dough to remove excess air, shape into a disc or square of even thinckness, about 3/4 inch high, and then wrap airtight. Refrigerate until firm, at least a couple of hours, or overnight.

When the dough is well chilled, whack it a few times to soften it slightly and then roll it evenly on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/3 inch. Place the sheet of dough on a parchment or foil lined sheet pan and then chill again until firm.

Arrange the oven rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the dough until golden brown, about 15 -20 minutes, reversing the pan, front to back, halfway into the baking time. The finished dough should be evenly browned. Allow to cool, break up about 1/4 of it into the crumbs used for the coupe, reserving the rest and breaking it up into shards to be enjoyed in the next few days (stored in an airtight tin, they will keep well, at cool temperature, for a few days).

To assemble the dessert: 

Scoop the ice cream into the chilled plates or bowls. Spoon a generous amount of the rhubarb (warm or cold) over the ice creamand and then finish off with a shower of the spiced shortbread crumbs. Serve immediately.


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