I was in the centre on the City last week, and there was a noticeable spring-like feeling in the air as I walked past St Paul’s Cathedral. Still rather fresh, but the smells of plants awakening from their winter slumber was certainly there. The flowers were not yet peeking out from the bushes and trees, but catkins and pussywillow have appeared. That was soon eliminated by the return of snow, but hey, for a brief few days, spring had sprung!
Our recent snowstorms have only been a little hiccup, and we are on the march towards warmer days. The impending bonanza of spring is also heralded by the arrival of something very special in your local fruit shop – lots and lots of neon pink Yorkshire rhubarb!
I’ve used this to make some very simple rhubarb tarts which bring together two classic flavours to make a British favourite. A sweet pastry shell, filled with pastry cream flavoured with a dash of vanilla, and then topped off with roasted rhubarb. Yes, it really is this lurid shade of pink!
How to get the look? As I say, by roasting! The trick to getting the bright colour is by cooking the chopped rhubarb with sugar in the oven. This is, in my view, about the best way of preparing rhubarb for a tart. It keeps the shape of the stems of rhubarb, but also preserves their amazing colour. The result is almost luminous, and combines sweetness with the lip-smacking sharpness that is the hallmark of rhubarb. You also have result which is sweet, sticky and syrupy, rather than watery which can happen if you opt to poach the rhubarb.
On little tip – when you come to use the rhubarb for the tarts, you only need the fruit, not the syrup. However, the syrup is also delicious – keep it and use it as a glaze, in yoghurt, or in your favourite cocktail (perhaps with Prosecco and gin to make a Yorkshire Pink Gin Fizz?).
The recipe below makes four to six tarts, depending on the size of your moulds (you’ll probably have too much pastry left, but I’ll be posting a little trick to use it up shortly). I feel I should caution you that these tarts are not exactly light – the pastry, rhubarb and custard filling means that like all good British puds, they are rather substantial, but there is no reason you could not adapt this to make bite-sized morsels too.
To make rhubarb and custard tartlets (makes 4-6, depending on size):
For the rhubarb:
• 700g pink rhubarb
• 150g white sugar
For the pastry:
• 175g plain flour
• 65g caster sugar
• pinch of salt
• 65g unsalted butter
• 1 egg, beaten
• cold water
For the filling:
• 250ml whole milk
• 2 eggs
• 1 egg yolk
• 90g caster sugar
• 30g cornflour
• 75g butter
To roast the rhubarb:
1. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
2. Wash and trim the rhubarb. Cut into piece of 1-2cm. Mix with the sugar and put into a glass or ceramic ovenproof dish. Loosely cover the dish with foil but make sure it does not touch the rhubarb (rhubarb + foil = trouble)! Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved and the rhubarb is pink and soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool (ideally, leave overnight in the fridge – the colour will intensify).
To make the pastry:
3. Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Work the butter in with your hands, then add the egg yolk and sufficient cold water (a teaspoon at a time) to make a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour.
4. Remove the pastry from the fridge. Roll out thinly and use to line some tartlet moulds. Fill with greaseproof paper and baking beads. Bake blind for around 20 minutes, then remove the greaseproof paper and baking beads. Bake for a further 10 minutes until golden. Leave to cool.
To make the pastry cream:
5. Put the milk into a saucepan. Bring to the boil then put to one side.
6. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, cornflour and vanilla extract. Add the milk and whisk until combined. Pour through a sieve into a clean saucepan and place over a medium heat.
7. Stir the mixture constantly until thickened (about 4-5 minutes – and really do stir it, otherwise it gets lumpy!). When very thick, remove from the heat. Add the butter and fold it into the pastry cream mixture. It might look oily, but it will come together.
8. Pour the mixture into a large dish and cover with cling film. Press the film onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin forming. Leave until completely cold.
To assemble the tartlets
9. Fill each tartlet shell with pastry cream. Top each tart with rhubarb (try to avoid getting too much syrup onto the tarts, or the pastry will get soggy).