My first introduction to fool, a classical English dessert dating back to the 16th century, was through Elizabeth David’s wonderful book Summer Cooking. David’s characteristically laconic recipe could not have been more appealing. “ 1lb. of strawberries, 3 oz. sugar, 5oz. double cream. Sieve the hulled strawberries. Stir in the sugar. Add this purée gradually to the whipped cream, so that it is quite smooth. Turn into a shallow crystal or silver dish, and put in the refrigerator for several hours, if possible underneath the ice-trays, so that the fools gets as cold as possible without actually freezing. It is important to cover the bowl, or everything else in the refrigerator will smell of strawberries.”
I love the airy texture of the mousse, the strong fragrance of strawberries and the refreshing sensation on the palate. Although fool (or foole as it used to be spelled) is traditionally made with gooseberries, it offers nearly limitless opportunities for experimens with different fruit pairings. Cream, as any fat based substance, picks up the aroma molecules beautifully, and it provides an excellent canvas on which to paint with flavors.
Rhubarb and strawberry make for the perfect marriage of bracing tartness and milky sweetness, of green freshness and floral richness. To add a richer facet to this already beautiful combination, I have decided on orange and vanilla. Orange pairs well with both rhubarb and strawberry. It both highlights its acidic brightness and softens it with a sweet fruity note. When used with strawberries, orange brings out their caramel-like richness and creamy sweetness. As for vanilla, in gastronomy as in perfumery, it has a similar and very important role—it can round out any combination, lending the finished dish a certain refinement.
So I sliced rhubarb into small pieces and cooked it with sugar, adding orange and vanilla towards the end to retain as much of the fragrance as possible. Meanwhile, the strawberry slices were macerating and the whipped cream was chilling in the fridge. All I had to do was wait for the rhubarb to cool down before combining it with berries and cream. Easy and straightforward though it was, the flavor was anything but. It was rich and complex, with an interesting interplay of tart, sweet, floral and creamy.
Rhubarb Strawberry Fool Perfumed with Orange and Vanilla
This fruit-spice combination is also delicious folded into Greek yogurt. Simply use a bit more sugar to compensate for the tartness of yogurt. In the same vein, please feel free to experiment with different flavors. Instead of orange-vanilla, rhubarb can be cooked with star anise.
1lb (500g) rhubarb
1/3-1/2c sugar, or to taste
Juice and zest of one orange
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 tspn of vanilla extract
½ lb (250g) strawberries
3/4c heavy cream
Cut rhubarb into medium sized pieces, add orange juice, cover with sugar and bury a vanilla bean under the fruit. Slowly bring to simmer and cook until rhubarb softens and the sugar melts, about 10min. Add orange zest (and vanilla extract, if using it instead of the whole vanilla bean.) Remove from the heat and let the fruit cool completely.
Meanwhile, cut strawberries into small pieces and toss with a spoonful of sugar.
Once rhubarb is cold, remove the vanilla pod*. Mix cooked fruit together with strawberries and their juices.
Whip heavy cream with a few drops of vanilla extract till it holds a stiff peak. Gradually, add the fruit to the whipped cream. I prefer to swirl the fruit into the cream, rather than mix it into a homogenous mass. Either portion the fool into individual glasses or turn it out into a large dish. Put in the refrigerator for several hours to make sure that it gets very cold. It is delicious with thin wafers or sugar cookies.
*Vanilla pod can be reused. Simple rinse it and let it dry completely before storing it wrapped in plastic. While the flavor may not be as potent the second time around, it will still be strong.
Photography © Bois de Jasmin.