Way back in the seventeenth century, rhubarb commanded as high a price as opium, and four times that of saffron. It was prized for its medicinal qualities, more than for its taste. Much has changed since.
Of course, everyone has heard of the Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire, between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. There, rhubarb has been grown for hundreds of years and it has now been awarded Protected Designation of Origin, acquiring the same status as Stilton cheese, Melton Mowbray pork pies, and Champagne.
To line the soufflé moulds
Unsalted butter, softened
For the rhubarb soufflé base and compote
English forced Rhubarb, cut into 3cm battons
For the rhubarb soufflé
English forced Rhubarb, diced 5mm
Cooked Rhubarb puree (see recipe)
150g (5 each)
Egg whites, organic / free range
To line the soufflé moulds:
Using a pastry brush, brush the softened butter evenly around the insides of four 8cm diameter x 6cm deep ceramic soufflé moulds.
Divide the sugar between the four moulds and roll it around to coat them evenly and completely; tap out any excess sugar. Reserve on a tray.
For the rhubarb soufflé base and compote:
Place the rhubarb and sugar in a large bowl, mix together well and leave for 30 minutes to macerate so the sugar penetrates the rhubarb to heighten its flavour and help to release its juices.
In a medium saucepan on a medium heat, add the macerated rhubarb and cook for 10 minutes with a lid on, stirring at 2-minute intervals.
Remove the lid and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes to evaporate excess moisture.
Remove 150g of the cooked rhubarb and juices, and leave to cool in a small saucepan. When the 150g of cooked rhubarb is cool, whisk in the cornflour.
On a medium heat bring it to a boil and cook for 1 minute to thicken into a compote. Reserve.
Return the remaining cooked rhubarb to a medium heat and cook uncovered for a further 4-5 minutes to reduce down to 160g. This will become the base for the soufflé mix. The texture will be similar to that of a compote, as a lot of moisture has been removed.
For the rhubarb soufflé
Preheat the oven to 180°C and heat a baking tray or stone.
In a small bowl mix the fresh rhubarb and sugar and leave to macerate for 30 minutes. In a medium non-stick frying pan on a high heat, flash cook the macerated rhubarb for 30 seconds. (*1) Remove the rhubarb from the pan and reserve on a plate to cool.In a large bowl mix together the warm crème patissière with the 160g cooked rhubarb puree.
In a mixer, whisk the egg whites and drop of lemon juice to a medium peak, then slowly add the sugar and whisk to firm peaks. (*2)
Briskly whisk a third of the egg whites into the crème patissière and rhubarb mixture to lighten this base. Then, gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Finally, fold the flash-cooked diced rhubarb into the soufflé mixture.
Divide the rhubarb compote between the soufflé moulds.
For the rhubarb soufflé cont...
Slightly overfill the moulds with the soufflé mixture. Using a palette knife smooth the tops to create a level surface.
Run the tip of your thumb around the inside edge of each mould to remove any excess soufflé mix. (*3)
Dust each soufflé with icing sugar, leave it to dissolve then dust again. This will give your soufflé a wonderful golden crust.
Place the moulds on the hot baking tray or stone and bake in the preheated oven for 8-9 minutes. Leave enough space between each mould for the hot air to circulate nicely. You can open the oven door while the soufflés are cooking, they are not such delicate prima donnas. A perfectly cooked souffle will rise beautifully and evenly, and will stay that way for at least 4-5 minutes. If it doesn't, it is either overcooked or undercooked.
Remove from the oven and serve straight away to your guests.
(*1) This should still leave a little bite to the rhubarb, and give the soufflé a wonderful freshness and further burst of rhubarb flavour and texture.
(*2) A tiny drop of lemon juice will change the chemistry of the egg whites and make them less prone to separating.
(*3) This will prevent the soufflé from catching on the edge and so ensure an even, straight rise.
You could line the soufflé moulds with dried powdered rhubarb and a little sugar. This would give a wonderful texture to the soufflé. Finely slice 200g rhubarb 1mm thick and lay out on a tray lined with greaseproof paper. Dry in the oven for 45 minutes at 90ºC. Leave to cool, then crush and powder with 30g caster sugar.