What irked me first was the sugar syrup you had to make before you could even start on the rhubarb. Not only does it add an extra pot to clean, it’s a wholly unnecessary step. All you need to do is put your chopped rhubarb in a pan with sugar and a small amount of water—just enough to get some simmering action going over medium heat. The rhubarb will soon give up its own liquid—and believe me, there’s plenty of it, more than enough to dissolve the sugar. No wonder the 1978 recipe needed gelatin: Thanks to the sugar syrup, the rhubarb was too soupy to be folded into whipped cream without becoming a soggy mess.
As much as I like gelled desserts such as panna cotta, I avoid dealing with gelatin at home if I can, especially if it involves folding whipped cream into a semi-gelled fruit puree. If you’re not careful, you end up with ropes of super-chewy unincorporated gelatin coursing through your finished dessert.
Then there is the matter of whipping a tiny amount of cream and a single egg white. Have you tried to whip 1/3 cup of cream? It’s almost impossible unless you whisk it by hand, and I’m too impatient for that, particularly with ultra-pasteurized cream, which takes forever to thicken. And if you think that’s tricky, try beating a single egg white. It’s possible, but the only way I can do it is to use a very deep narrow bowl and my trusty handheld eggbeater.
So, fired up now, I decided to redo, revise, remix, and streamline this rhubarb fool. Ironically, by doing this, I was also going back to the dish’s origins, because the fruit fool is an old British dessert consisting simply of a fruit puree mixed with whipped cream.
I started with a pound of chopped rhubarb and cooked it down with 2/3 cup sugar to a thick puree—it took 20 minutes. I added a little vanilla because I love how its creamy flavor takes the edge off the acidity of the rhubarb. I put the puree in the fridge, and when it was sufficiently cold, I whipped a whole cup of cream and folded it in. Nothing stopped my family and friends from devouring it, but the verdict was: Too much cream, not enough rhubarb. I nailed it on the second round, upping the rhubarb to 1½ pounds and keeping the cream to 1 cup. When incorporating the whipped cream, don’t overmix it. Let the pink swirls of rhubarb remain. When spooned into a wineglass, it looks elegantly nonchalant—because it is! No one needs to know it’s only four ingredients.