I have been wanting to give this a go for a very long time. You see my Mother had a cookbook, The Woman’s Home Companion. It was first published in 1942 and was aimed at the coming war years. The cake section included options for 1, 2, 3, & 4 egg cakes as rationing was in effect. There was a chapter on how to cut meat into the conventional sections as well as bread making and preserving from scratch. Not full of mouth watering coffee table photos we call food porn today, this was an instruction volume for cooking from scratch with the occasional diagram or picture. For fifty years the dessert page with it’s Rhubarb Charlotte tucked away in the top left corner has stuck in my mind.
And as much as my happy dance comes out when spring arrives and the first of the rhubarb is available, I have never actually made one, probably because buying ladyfingers is not on my radar. So through the cold nasty winter weather and all the shovelling, I kept thinking…. Beltane….rhubarb ….Beltane…..what can I do with rhubarb this year?
Well the Cailleach must have gotten wind of my plans as there has been a terrific battle this year. The winter witch was unwilling to let go of her rule and many plants are later than usual, rhubarb being one.
Just as I was about to give up hope, the very first of the local harvest popped up in a store and as an added blessing, I walked away with two pounds of tender stocks for FREE! (No, I did not shoplift). There was a pricing issue in the computer and a lineup. It was easier to give me the rhubarb than make everyone else wait. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
I headed home and got right to work.
You will need:
30 ladyfingers, the soft variety ( maybe some extra, just in case )
1 pound rhubarb
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. gelatin
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 cup whipping cream
Booze, let’s cover that later
1 cup whipping cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla sugar or regular or violet flavoured
wild violet jelly, optional
sugared violet, optional
violet sugar, optional
Let’s start with the alcohol. It’s purpose it to soften the ladyfingers and add flavour. I used the very last of my Cascade berry liqueur for this May Day dessert. Something I made several years ago and will not be able to make again as the vines are gone. Another common option would be Kirsch.
Something I also thought about was Cointreau as rhubarb and orange is a good flavour combination but I know I was heading towards pinks and purples so stayed away from orange. One thing to consider when making your choice is that a dark coloured liquid is going to be more visible on the ladyfingers than a light coloured one. If you take a look at the finished dessert you can see the darker edges around the ladyfingers. That comes from being dipped in Cascade berry liqueur.
Also it is not mandatory that alcohol is used, although some sort of liquid is helpful there will be a big contrast in strength between the cookies and the filling.
On to the dipping. There are two options in ladyfingers, a soft and a hard variety. The hard variety will soak up too much liquid too quickly and then fall apart. Not a good plan. Fine for dipping into coffee but not for something that needs to be stable for several hours of not days. Even with the soft variety, it is a quick dip and then out process. You will be able to see very quickly if they have been in too long. Think one – two seconds. The lady fingers on the inside of the dessert will soften more as this sits and the ones on the outside will soften on the inside where they touch the cream filling but the outside will be firmer and getting them too moist will only cause frustration as you loose stability.
So let’s start with a blessing of gratitute to spring and the options that return with the shifting of the seasons. Gather the ingredients while contemplating the purpose of this celebratory offering. It is a show of appreciation for all that is now becoming available again. Come into the present moment while you separate from the nigglies of your day to day ups and downs and be… here… now. Invite the compassionate spirits to join you.
Begin but washing and dicing the rhubarb into small sections as shown above and along with the water and sugar bring the mixture in a small pot to a boil over medium heat. Reduce and simmer for about 10 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and falls apart.
While the rhubarb cooks prepare the ladyfingers. Line the bottom and sides of a springform pan with parchment paper. Cut a circle for the bottom using the pan as a guide and long rectangle pieces for the sides as this dessert will end up taller than the height of the pan.
Sort through the ladyfingers. In the packages will be 10 – 12 depending on the company. They tend to be stuck together so sort out the good ones for the outside and leave the ones that got squished together for the inside. You can see how the cookies rub off on each other just above.
Dip the ladyfingers for the bottom of the pan, rounded dipped side up and place inside, filling the spaces with smaller cut section. You can see the difference in colour as the smaller pieces did not get dipped.
In a small dish add the gelatin to 2 Tbsp. of water. Stir and allow the gelatin to soften. Add to the rhubarb mixture and stir until dissolved.
It is possible to return this mixture to the heat for a quick moment if the rhubarb is too cool to help dissolve the gelatin.
Whip cream and fold the two sections together when the rhubarb mixture is cool enough not to affect the whipped cream.
Transfer the blended mixture to the middle of the springform pan. Spread evenly to the edges.
I used a inch springform pan and was running with an idea and no recipe. When I make this again I will make fifty percent more filling so that the level of rhubarb filling is higher and the decorative section on top can be reduced. ( Not saying that adding more rhubarb would have any influence on that decision ).
Drizzle any remaining liqueur on top. Let me rephrase that. If there is any liqueur left over with ladyfinger crumbs in it from the dipping, sprinkle on top. I did not mean upend the bottle.
Place in the fridge and allow at least three hours to set. This is important. It will help the ladyfingers soften and the gelatin firm up making the slices easier to cut.
Hopefully this next part is the fun part. My intention was a special dessert for Beltane/May Day celebrations that included the symbols of the season. I try to keep to edible garnishes but if any occasion calls for ribbons it is Beltane.
I also know that not everyone went violet collecting and made the sugar, jelly and flowers from previous posts used to finish off this dessert. How the charlotte is decorated is really up to you.
I whipped up the remaining cup of whipping cream with the vanilla sugar until stiff. Then using the largest serrated icing tip I have, covered the top layer of lady fingers with the cream in a myriad of twirls. Wild violet jelly was added in small amounts to the spaces in between the whipped cream twirls for its bright fischia colour and taste. The sugared violets were places strategically and lastly violet sugar was sprinkled on top for an added hint of aroma and colour. Then the charlotte was wrapped in matching ribbon as an homage to May poles and flowers crowns.
So there you have it, a yummy ( if you love rhubarb ) spring treat and edible proof that Brigid ultimately won the battle even though she needed to work extra hard this year.
Rhubarb Charlotte from My Kitchen Wand.