This week, we’re back into the wonderful world of rhubarb, and we’re trying a version of a recipe created by one of the world’s greatest chefs, the genius Heston Blumenthal.
He’s a man blessed with a keen intellect, terrific cooking ability and a scientist’s eye for detail.
Every recipe he creates is done so with great care, and much experimentation.
Blumenthal likes to know the scientific processes that occur as one’s cooking, from the simplest poaching of an egg to the crazy techniques he uses at The Fat Duck, his incredible restaurant in Bray.
He also owns a couple of pubs in the village, and even their ‘classic’ pub grub is produced with the same care and research.
Similarly, his huge restaurant in London, Dinner By Heston, is a test-bed for his new interpretations of ancient British recipes.
He and his team worked with food historians at Hampton Court to bring these long-forgotten dishes to life, and now hundreds of people sit down at lunch and dinner to eat these incredible versions of Elizabethan and Victorian dishes, from salmagundi to ‘powdered duck’.
I was very lucky to go there for my last birthday, and we had the chef’s table, actually situated inside the vast open-plan kitchen.
It was hard to know what to look at more – the amazing plates of food set before me, or the busy kitchen, with 40-odd chefs working like the most wonderfully tuned machine, bringing all the elements of each dish together with precision timing.
I do recommend you try Dinner. It is a wonderful, magical, historical experience, ultra-modern delicious food, with its roots planted way back in time.
Which brings us to our dish today, Tipsy Cake. Originally served at grand Victorian dinners as a large ornate cake, it has been reinterpreted to become a wonderfully soft, crunchy topped sticky pudding.
It’s essentially a yeasted brioche bread, rolled in sugar and baked, then doused with a seriously boozy cream, which seeps to the bottom of the dish, creating a rich, decadent sauce. The top of the pudding caramelises and crisps, and each little pillow of pudding is an explosion of flavour and texture.
As soon as I’d tried it I knew I had to share it with you. I’ve simplified the recipe a little, as a few of the steps seemed rather superfluous to me – I’m well aware that they make scientific sense to the perfectionist Heston, but some of us have lives to live!
Also, traditionally the tipsy cake would be served with roasted pineapple, and at Dinner the pineapples are glazed and spit-roasted for the dining room to see – it’s a magnificent sight to see dozens of identical golden pineapples slowly rotating like a work of art or piece of fantastical machinery.
I’d been thinking about pineapple, but when I tried the tipsy cake for myself at home, I thought that some wonderfully tart, chilled rhubarb would be absolutely delightful as an accompaniment.
By all means, try any fruit you like. I imagine the tipsy cake would work well with apricots, or raspberries, perhaps even roasted bananas. But I like the combination of the super-sweet and the lip-smackingly tart, so for me it’s rhubarb every time.
And don’t worry – yes, it looks like a complicated recipe, but it really isn’t when you get going, and when you pull it out of the oven you’ll understand that it’s worth every minute you spent.
It’s a day-before recipe, too, so leave yourself time.
For the dough:
535g plain flour
6 free-range eggs, whisked
10g fresh yeast (or 3g quick dry yeast)
15g Maldon salt
60g unrefined golden caster sugar
335g unsalted butter, diced and softened
For the sweet cream:
75g demerara sugar
75g golden caster sugar
40ml dessert wine (such as sweet Muscat or Sauternes)
65ml brandy or rum
Seeds of 1 vanilla pod
500g whipping cream
For the rhubarb:
6 large sticks rhubarb
A little unrefined golden caster sugar
The juice of 1 lemon
100g melted butter, for dipping
100g unrefined golden caster sugar, for dipping
A suitable ovenproof baking dish or individual pots
First, poach the rhubarb. Heat the oven to 190ºC /Gas 5. Slice the rhubarb into good-sized chunks, and lay in a single layer in a non-reactive ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a little sugar, and the lemon juice along with a small splash of water.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, basting occasionally,
until the rhubarb is cooked enough so that the point of a knife will slip through with ease, and remove from the oven to cool. When cold, place the rhubarb and syrup in a tub and refrigerate until required. Keep the oven on.
Next, the sweet cream; in a blender, whizz the dessert wine, brandy and both sugars until smooth, then stir this into the cream, add the vanilla seeds, then cover and refrigerate until required. For the brioche, mix the yeast, milk and three-quarters of the beaten egg in a jug or bowl, and leave for 10 minutes to fully dissolve the yeast. Put the plain flour, Maldon salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and insert the dough hook attachment.
Add the yeasty egg mixture and bring together slowly on the lowest speed setting until it forms a thick dough. Increase the speed and mix for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and stretchy. Lower the speed and add the remaining egg, then add the butter in small amounts, making sure each piece is incorporated before adding the next. You will end up with a shiny, smooth elastic dough. Place this in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm, then pop in the fridge overnight.
The next day, gently remove the dough from the bowl and set it on a lightly-floured work surface.
Roll out the dough to 1½ cm thickness and cut into rough 3cm squares. Roll each piece into a ball with floured hands and chill on a tray until you've used up all the dough. Dip each ball in melted butter then roll in the caster sugar until completely covered, and place in your baking dish, making sure they snuggle up tightly to each other. Cover with oiled clingfilm and place in a warm spot for about 4 hours, to allow for a good, long prove.
Bake the pudding for 15 minutes, then separate each ‘bun’ gently with a spatula, and drizzle about a third of cooking cream over the top.
Bake for a further 5 minutes then add another third of the cooking cream. Bake for another 5 minutes.
Finish with the remaining cream and bake another 5 minutes.
Serve immediately with a helping of rhubarb and a little of the poaching syrup.