Not really. Chicken loves gluten too much to do something that crazy. However, chicken does have a downstairs neighbour this summer who can’t eat the stuff. I took my favourite dessert recipe and turned it on its glutenous head for Sandy, invading her newly acquired library of fun flours. And with the help of Didi’s rhubarb hacking skills, we borrowed nan’s (or is it mom’s) rhubarb meringue shortbread recipe and made a magic gluten-free, guilt-free (debatable) piece of heaven. However, those who have an aversion to butter, sugar and eggs, best look away now.
I don’t really know where this dessert came from…a friend of mom’s back in Labrador I think. We always had an abundance of rhubarb in our garden (stuff grows up there!) and never really knew what to do with it all. This will fix your rhubarb problem. A little too well. This is the only dessert I can eat for supper. And yes, sadly (or happily depending on your outlook), this has been done. A few times. If you like rhubarb, you’ll love it. Some people don’t like tart desserts (weirdos) so don’t make it for your mother-in-law if she’s one of them. And maybe don’t call her a weirdo.
We had a bag of fresh rhubarb in the fridge for a couple of weeks that disappeared. Off the face of the planet. Didi said she remembered cutting it up to put in the freezer. No rhubarb in the freezer. No doubt we’ll find it at the end of the summer behind the sofa or under someone’s bed, but in the meantime, I was in a panic because Sandy was coming up from the apartment downstairs to make this dessert and the star of the show was missing.
Didi said “There’s a patch of rhubarb at the cat pee house.”
“You know, that house I lived in down the road a few years ago, the one that smelled like cat pee. It has a huge patch of rhubarb in the front yard. No one lives there, it’s just going to go to waste. Let’s go.”
So we hopped in the car and drove to the cat pee house. I stood on the side of the road in my flip flops, on lookout while Didi hacked away at the rhubarb, a little too good with her knife if you ask me. It looked like she’d been to war in the jungle or something. I got a little freaked out when one of the fourteen year old ushers from the theatre biked down the road and said hello. I didn’t think he’d say anything about the rhubarb….I saw him sneaking a smoke behind the theatre last week, so it’s cool. I think we like, have an understanding. When we got home Didi said, “Give that rhubarb a good wash. A lot of slugs out there.” Gross. Like I wouldn’t wash rhubarb from a place called “the cat pee house.”
Gluten-Free Rhubarb Meringue Shortbread
(Original gluten-type ingredients in brackets)
2 tbsp sugar
1 cup Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all purpose baking flour (1 cup regular flour)
1/2 cup butter
Blend together. Bake in a 9×9 pan at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. If you’re using the gluten-free flour, it’ll be a little messy, like a batter, so spread it in the pan with a spoon (In the case of regular white flour, mix the ingredients together with your hands like you would a pastry, until it looks like little breadcrumbs…the shortbread will be crumbly, so press it firmly into the pan).
1/2 tsp cornstarch (2 tbsp flour)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups chopped rhubarb
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
Cook together and stir until rhubarb is tender and the mixture has thickened.
3 egg whites
6 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Using a handmixer, whisk egg white mixture until stiff peaks form. Spread the rhubarb filling onto the baked crust, followed by the meringue, taking care not to mix the two together. Place in a 350 degree oven until meringue has puffed nicely and is a little golden, about 5 minutes or so. Broil for the last minute or two if you like, watching that the meringue doesn’t burn. I never took my eyes from the oven window, it can happen that fast…the first time I made this dessert ten years ago I ran to the bathroom while the meringue was on broil in the oven. Not pretty. But pretty burnt.
I was a little worried with the experiment, especially when I had to spread the shortcake like batter instead of pressing the crumbly bits down into the pan. But it turned out to be as good as the real thing, as good as the gluten. The shortbread bottom was crispier and saltier…nothing wrong with that. This could work with any number of gluten-free flours, I think. I might try rice flour next time. If anyone has any ideas, let me know? The beauty of this dessert is that it all gets put in a square pan and you get that pie feeling without having to worry about shaping anything into a gluten-free pie crust, a feat which I’m not yet brave enough to try. In the meantime, Sandy and I have been experimenting with recipes I’ve already blogged about. I’ve discovered that potato cakes (July 17th) work beautifully with brown rice flour and a teaspoon of baking powder. I’ve been making Nigel Slater’s raspberry ricotta pancakes (June 8th) religiously and wanted to make a gluten-free version for Sandy. She came up with a sorghum flour/arrowroot flour/potato starch/xanthan gum mixture that was so much like the real thing I want to write Nigel a letter. I have a few friends who can’t do gluten at all so I’m excited about tweaking my favourite recipes for them. With Sandy and her arsenal of flours downstairs, we’ll see what else we can come up with by the end of the summer.