Week 1: A Rhubarb Compote Runs Through It

We went around in circles about what to do with the rhubarb: pie? tart? panna cotta? simple syrup? (I’ve done the simple syrup before and while it’s a pretty color, it doesn’t taste like anything.) At this point in the week, we were specifically looking for something that wouldn’t be too much work—especially since Andrew had been asked to make coffee cake for 30 people for a graduation on Sunday at the Alexander Technique school where he used to teach.

We finally settled on a rhubarb compote, which is sort of like not making a decision at all since you can put it on almost anything.

Rhubarb compote is really easy. You chunk up the rhubarb and mix with sugar. The recipe is from Martha Stewart; we did it with less sugar because I prefer my desserts as tart as possible.

  1. Mix the rhubarb and sugar together and let them stand for 10 minutes until they’ve released some juices. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. The recipe has you stop while there are still chunks of rhubarb remaining.
  2. You grate a few TB of fresh ginger and then squeeze the juices out through a fine mesh strainer. It’s fun. Then you stir it into the rhubarb mixture when it comes off the heat.


While resting on our laurels and turning our attention to the graduation cooking project over the weekend,  I mused that instead of making 2 coffee cakes, we could just make donuts instead. Andrew got suddenly excited, realizing we could fill donuts with the rhubarb compote. All plans of keeping it simple went out the window.

Rhubarb Compote-Filled Powdered Donuts

For a project like this—needing to deliver 30 donuts by 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning—Andrew decided to sit down and work out the timings the night before (you’ll notice that he magnified the challenge by deciding to make both yeasted and cake donuts.)

He also measured out most of the ingredients the night before, figuring that measuring ingredients when you’re half asleep at 5:45 AM might not be the best idea.

Andrew grew up baking, and he brings a baking precision to most of his cooking. He has a digital scale to weigh ingredients and gives impassioned speeches about why you need to weigh flour instead of scooping it out in cups. I stubbornly cling to my self-concept as a let’s-just-wing-it-and-not-act-like-a-crazy-person type cook, though I lack the knowledge and experience to pull it off. I’m not a bad cook by most standards, but when something truly challenging comes along I tend to sit back and let Andrew go nuts.

All of which is to say, this Chef Steps recipe is far above my skill level. I woke up at 6:00 AM and pulled myself out of bed in order to provide moral support and the occasional dishwashing chops, and to periodically check in to see how far behind schedule Andrew was.

6:00 AM—The First Mixing

The recipe makes a point of telling you not to turn your back on the mixer during the 20 minute kneading stage and they’re not kidding.

6:45 AM—Rising

At this point in the morning, Andrew was still on schedule. After kneading, the dough went into the fridge to rise for an hour.

When it came out of the fridge, it was somewhat obvious that the yeast was doing its thing.

8:00 AM—Cutting and Proofing

Andrew punched down the dough, rolled it out and cut out the donuts. The yeasted donuts proofed on the counter for another hour before they were ready to fry.

While the yeasted donuts proofed, Andrew worked to get the cake donuts together, forgetting to get the oil heating in the pot for frying.

9:15 AM—Frying and Making Glazes

By the time the oil was up to temperature, Andrew was running about fifteen minutes behind, maybe not too big a deal, except he was cooking in his pajamas and an apron, and the graduation ceremony was looming. While he got the donuts frying, I came into the kitchen to start working on the glazes.

Making glazes is amazing, because it takes exactly 15 seconds per glaze. I made a maple glaze consisting of confectioners’ sugar and maple syrup, a lime-tequila glaze with confectioners’ sugar, lime juice, and tequila; and a chocolate ganache glaze with confectioners’ sugar (you can see the pattern here), chocolate, and heavy cream. These glazes came from Saveur, although the lime-tequila glaze was heavily adapted from their orange glaze in that I used lime and tequila instead of orange and triple sec in an uncharacteristic act of rule-breaking. I also made a classic donut glaze from Chef Steps.

10:15 AM – Filling and Decorating in a Frenzied Panic

After the donuts had finished frying  we realized that we were about 45 minutes behind, the donuts had yet to cool enough for the glaze to stick to them, and Andrew still had to shower. There was very little time for thinking things through, and in his hurry Andrew was over-filling the donuts, causing the extra filling to splurt back out onto the counter.

While Andrew cursed and filled donuts and showered, I was busy dipping donuts into various glazes and trying to clean up enough so that the cats wouldn’t be covered in powdered sugar and lime-tequila glaze when we got home.

10:53—In Transit

Luckily, graduation was only 7 minutes away and there was already plastic down on my backseat.

In the end, there was no need to panic: we made it on time and the donuts were greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. Conveniently, I had a sugar high from taste-testing glazes, which wore off just as the graduation party was wrapping up. When we got back home, we checked to make sure that no cats had been glazed and promptly slept for two hours.

Next: Week 1 Final Report.


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