The perfect rhubarb crumble.
A strong statement, particularly from someone who did not grow up eating crumbles, except in other people’s houses. But because we had a very fecund rhubarb patch in our garden (perfect for hiding little figurines in, or eating stems of belly-aching raw rhubarb from), I did eat a lot of rhubarb, mostly as baked rhubarb with ginger (fresh ginger + ginger ale for a mega ginger hit), cooked slowly in a pot in a low oven and served with homemade rice pudding or ice cream; or as rhubarb pie (like an apple pie, but rhubarb. Surprisingly uncommon; unsurprisingly nice), served with a long pour of cold unwhipped whipping cream and a few Sunday evening disagreements.
Both tremendously comforting, if unorthodox, and the rhubarb with ginger was a really great pairing that I’ve been making since I was little (still on ‘dessert duty’ since ’97).
So when I started making this crumble, I automatically reached for some fresh ginger, and made to add it to the filling when I suddenly had a brainwave (based on another one of my mum’s great recipes – this incredible ginger shortbread) and decided to put it in the crumble mix instead.
So I put it in the oven, and hoped that this wouldn’t be an epic fail for a crumble newbie. I wrote my notes, in case I needed to change anything. Made an Easter card. And then this emerged:
Then with the topping sorted, I wanted something else for the filling, just a little side flavour that wouldn’t dominate (this is often how I cook). So orange zest and orange juice it was, and a little vanilla extract, because every sweet thing is improved by vanilla in my opinion.
Other than how nice it tasted (first spoonful out of the oven the cook’s prize), I also liked that it looked a bit more decorative than usual. As while one of crumble’s calling cards is how easy it is to pull together on a Sunday when you haven’t been to the shops and the day has got away from you (this is where the arguments come in), it is a very beloved dish. Some people are really passionate about it and most are more than positive towards it, so it seems like a good thing to give it its moment in the sun. And if Lockdown has taught us anything, it’s to find ways to make the everyday a bit special.
So for this long weekend, whatever your plans are, I wish for you the perfect versions of all your favourite foods, and a bit of beauty in the ordinary.
THE PERFECT RHUBARB CRUMBLE
Enjoy with pouring cream, whipped cream, ice cream, custard, whatever makes your heart sing
For the filling
600g pink stemmed rhubarb (if you are using greener garden-patch rhubarb you might need to boost the sugar in the filling to taste)
One medium sized orange (eg a navel orange or a large blood orange)
3 tablespoons water
Dash of vanilla extract
130g caster sugar
For the crumble
140g self-raising flour
60g golden caster sugar
20g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
85g salted butter, cubed
Preheat your oven to 190c. Trim the ends off the rhubarb and cut into short batons. [If you want to do the orange slice thing on top, after zesting, take the second orange slice after the cap slice and set aside, then halve and juice the rest.]
Place these and all the other filling ingredients in a pot and simmer gently over a low heat, covered, till the rhubarb is just becoming tender but still has a little bite – probably around 6 minutes. Taste a piece of rhubarb – does it need a little more sweetness? If so add another scant tablespoon of sugar. Set aside once done.
For the crumble, rub the flour and butter together until the texture is like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the caster sugar and grated ginger. Transfer the filling to an ovenproof dish (set aside a few pieces of the stewed rhubarb if you want to make a little pattern on top – I cut mine into thinner strips) and cover with the crumble, arranging any rhubarb pieces on top as desired. Bake for 25-30 mins, or until golden and bubbling. Your nose will tell you when it’s ready.