It’s that time of the year again when I just cannot get enough of rhubarb! This year I have made plenty of rhubarb puddings, including baked white chocolate and rhubarb cheesecake and this one – a rhubarb and brown sugar meringue mess, which is a favourite and one that is cherished by all our regulars.
I feel like a bit of a fraud making a meringue mess, as I feel it’s easy to make and I am concerned that our customers think I am cheating by making something that is so simple, hence, I am adding a few layers of complication to the recipe to ensure that I earn my keep and reputation of being a hard-working chef!
Our famous brown sugar meringue messes take on various different flavours and guises as the seasons evolve. We start the year off with poached rhubarb, then move onto strawberry, followed by gooseberry, then cinnamon-baked damsons or Victoria plums during the autumn, and then back to rhubarb in early January. At the British Larder there is a Meringue Mess for all seasons!
I make the meringues with half soft dark brown sugar and half caster sugar. The brown sugar reduces the level of sweetness and gives the meringues an almost caramelised taste, definitely a winner with us. This recipe makes more meringues than is needed for the messes, but try serving the remaining brown sugar meringues with coffee, which is equally as good. They will remain crisp for up to 1 week if kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry cupboard.
You can use either forced rhubarb or outdoor rhubarb for this recipe, but the colour of the pink forced rhubarb will be prettier.
Ingredients & Method
For the brown sugar meringues
- 4 large egg whites
- 200g soft dark brown sugar
- 200g caster sugar
- a pinch of table salt
For the poached rhubarb
- 500g fresh rhubarb
- 250g caster sugar
- 250ml cold water
For the rhubarb foam
- 2 leaves of gelatine
- 100ml boiling water
- 400ml cooled rhubarb syrup from the poached rhubarb recipe above
For the vanilla Chantilly cream
- 250ml whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
- 1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways and seeds scraped out
First prepare the brown sugar meringues. Preheat the oven to 110°C/Gas Mark ¼ and line 2 large baking trays with non-stick baking paper. Place the egg whites, both sugars and the salt in a large saucepan. Cover your hands with clean disposable gloves. Place the saucepan over a very low heat and gently heat the egg white mixture to melt the sugar. Stick one of your hands into the egg white and sugar mixture and stir it continuously. By using your hands you can control the heat, as you should not heat the egg whites and sugar above 37°C. Stir it all the time to help dissolve the sugar.
Once the temperature has reached 37°C, transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, and whisk to the thick ribbon stage (or stiff peaks). Transfer the meringue mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle and pipe the meringue into 20 pence piece-sized droplets (pulling the bag upwards to create peaks) on the prepared baking trays; leave sufficient gaps between each one as they will swell as they cook.
Bake the meringues in the oven for about 1 hour or until they are dry. Check that they are cooked by touching their outsides; if they are firm on the outside but still slightly gooey in the centre, then they are done. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely on the baking trays, then remove.
For the poached rhubarb, trim, wash and cut the rhubarb into 5cm-length pieces. Place the rhubarb in a saucepan, then sprinkle over the sugar and add the water. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer, then cook gently for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender and soft and the syrup has turned bright pink (if you are using forced rhubarb). Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Once cool, use a slotted spoon to remove the poached rhubarb to a dish, then cover and chill in the fridge until needed. Pass the rhubarb syrup through a fine sieve and use it for making the rhubarb foam.
To make the rhubarb foam, soak the gelatine in cold water until it has softened. Squeeze the gelatine gently to remove the excess water, then add the gelatine to the boiling water and stir until dissolved. Stir in the measured rhubarb syrup. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, then pour it into a cream whipper. Secure the lid, charge with 2 gas pellets, shake vigorously, and then chill in the fridge for 3 hours.
To make the Chantilly cream, in a bowl, whip the cream with the icing sugar and vanilla seeds until thick, then cover and chill in the fridge until needed.
Ensure all the components, apart from the meringues, are chilled before serving.
To assemble the dish, crush 3 meringues for each dessert glass. Layer the ingredients into each glass – first start with a spoonful of the poached rhubarb, then top with some crushed meringues, then top this with Chantilly cream. Repeat these layers once more. Finally, shake the cream whipper vigorously and squirt a good helping of rhubarb foam onto each dessert, then top each one with a brown sugar meringue and serve immediately.