If you could distill the brightness, sweetness, and exuberance of springtime fruit into a gooey, drippy, vanilla-flecked sauce, you would do so, yes? (Hint: There’s only one right answer.) I came up with this luxurious Rhubarb-Vanilla Sauce sort of by accident, and I’m gonna say it’s one my favorite accidents in mayyyybe my whole life. I was working on a rhubarb pavlova (coming soon!), and I wanted a sticky sauce to drizzle on top. I wondered whether rhubarb caramel was a thing, and if it wasn’t, could it be?? In googling ‘rhubarb caramel’, I only found one source, which called it “caramel” because it included brown sugar (i.e. brown color = caramel), but it wasn’t actually a proper caramel. Unsure of the sugar science of fruit juice, I wanted to see if I could make a true fruit-based caramel.
I cooked rhubarb, sugar, and water until the rhubarb had softened, then strained out the gorgeous red juice. I cooked this down to a bubbly syrup, to which I added butter, vanilla paste, and cream, all the while being quite unsure what sort of brew I was conjuring. Would it turn brown? Would it burn to a crisp? Would it explode all over my stovetop? I was shocked and utterly thrilled that the mixture came together into a beautiful, thick, elastic sauce with the texture of caramel, but the fruity brightness of rhubarb and the warmth of vanilla. It didn’t turn brown, but that was wholly forgotten as soon as I put a spoonful in my mouth!
This sauce is perfect drizzled over strawberries with Greek yogurt, or a pavlova, or a strawberry-rhubarb pie, or a myriad of fruity desserts. The only thing I don’t like about it is wasting the actual rhubarb flesh; feel free to use it for something else, or blend it into a purée and stick it in the freezer. I know I’ll be making this every spring pretty much forever, and I hope you like it too! 🙂
Yields about ½ cup sauce
For the rhubarb-vanilla sauce:
- 12 ounces (340g) trimmed rhubarb, cut into 2″ pieces
- ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste
Place the rhubarb, sugar, and water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir them together occasionally until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Cook the rhubarb until it softens and the bubbling liquid is a vibrant pink, about 10 minutes. Pour the rhubarb and its syrup into a strainer set over a bowl. Reserve the rhubarb pieces for another use or discard.
Transfer the rhubarb syrup to a clean, medium saucepan and set it over medium-low heat. Bring it to a boil and let it cook down until it is a deep pink with large open bubbles– there will not be a lot of liquid left in the bottom of the pan. This process should take about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the butter, followed by the cream and vanilla paste. Pour the sauce into a small bowl and allow it to cool and thicken, stirring occasionally. After a few minutes, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. It will be the consistency of caramel once it cools. Store any leftover rhubarb-vanilla sauce in the fridge in an airtight container.
Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2017.