These rhubarb and custard pavlovas were the denouement of a Mother’s Day dinner which had as its main event slow-roasted shoulder of honeyed lamb (from my Easter Sunday recipe featured in The Arbuturian); minted new potatoes; peas with braised leeks; and some beetroots that had been roasted with manzanilla, thyme, rosemary and whole garlic cloves. After all that I was glad of this make-ahead dessert that only requires some last-minute assembly before serving. Especially as said assembly was delegated to the mothers’ sons.
Rhubarb and custard are, of course a classic combination which will either bring to mind the 1970s cartoon theme music or maybe those sparkly, slightly sickly sweets. There’s nothing sickly about this dessert. The marshamallowy meringue is the perfect bed for cream that is whipped through with custard and then finished off with bright rhubarb batons poached in Pernod.
I should say that the pavlovas as I make them are blousily bountiful. These are big old meringues and I feel no desire to encourage you to make them any more daintily.
The meringue bases, custard, and poached rhubarb can all be made 1-2 days ahead.
Rhubarb and Custard Pavlovas (makes 8)
For the meringue bases :
6 large eggs
pinch of salt
375g caster sugar
3 tsps cornflour
a few drops vanilla extract
1.5 tsps white wine vinegar
For the custard:
6 egg yolks
1tbsp caster sugar
450ml single cream
1 vanilla pod
For the poached rhubarb:
600g rhubarb batons – thin ones ideally
450ml double cream
150g toasted flaked almonds
Start the meringues by lining two baking sheets with baking paper. Draw 4 circles of approx 12cm wide on each (a saucer is a good guide). Preheat the oven to 140C.
Separate the egg whites into a super-clean mixing bowl, reserving the yolks for the custard. Whisk the whites until stiff. Add the sugar in stages, continuing to whisk as you go. You’ll end up with something gloriously glossy. Gently fold in the cornflour, vanilla and vinegar.
Now spoon the meringue into each circle. Make an indent in the middle of each one to create a nest that the cream etc can nestle into later. Put the trays into the oven for 40 minutes. Then turn the oven off and leave them in for another 30 minutes. Remove to wire racks and once fully cool peel off the paper and store in airtight containers.
Make the custard by whisking the egg whites with the sugar and cornflour. Cut the vanilla pod down its length and scrape out the seeds. Put the pod and seeds into a small pan with the cream and bring almost to boiling point. Then slowly whisk in the egg mixture. Stir over a low heat for 5 minutes or so as the custard thickens. Take out the vanilla pod (but keep it for the rhubarb) and set aside the custard aside to cool, with cling-film pressed into the surface to avoid a skin forming.
Poach the rhubarb by cutting each stick into 2-3cm batons. There’s no need to skin them. Heat the sugar, Pernod and water in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Add in the rhubarb and the vanilla pod that you used for the custard. Stir it all around to coat the fruit in the poaching liquid and then leave to cook until tender. This should only be 3-5 minutes depending on the girth of your batons. Remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon to cool. Rapidly boil the remaining liquid to reduce to a syrup.
Then when it is time to build and serve your pavlovas:
Whip the double cream until stiff. Fold in the custard and whip again if you need to make it firmer.
Spoon the cream/custard into the pavlovas. Place on top however many rhubarb batons you like the look of. Dribble over a little of the rhubarb poaching syrup and crumble over flaked almonds.