Quite a few people have a strong aversion to the wonderful rhubarb. It is a red stemmed vegetable that is almost always treated a fruit. A few reasons for rhubarb's bad rep may be the fact that the leaves were once (early Twentieth Century) touted as a healthy dietary supplement. It is a well-known fact now that rhubarb leaves are fairly toxic. What is not so well known is what was thought to be the original culprit, oxalic acid, is actually found in dense quantities in the edible stem itself. The toxin in the leaves is yet to be identified.
Or perhaps it is just bad childhood memories of over-stewed rhubarb that was not cooked with enough sugar to balance the pleasant acidic taste of rhubarb. Whatever the case, this sublime dessert will change your mind about rhubarb forever.
The dessert can be made as one large tart, or several individual sweet treats. Either way it is a delicious melange of crisp pastry, elegant stems of rhubarb and what is known in pastry circles as crème patissiere. Otherwise known as pastry cream, this luscious creamy treat is the basis for all manner of classical French confections, particularly fruit tarts. It is very simple to make and has a multitude of applications in pastry and dessert work.
This sweet is a good choice for a special occasion, such as a dinner party, as almost all the work can be done the day before. The assembly and plating taking only a matter of minutes.
Tart case and rhubarb
1 quantity of sweet pastry
1 bunch rhubarb, leaves removed
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthways
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 Tbs water
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthways
6 egg yolks
150 gm caster sugar
50 gm cornflour (cornstarch)
1/2 cup whipped cream
Follow the directions for making the pastry in the chocolate toffee tart node. If the rhubarb is fairly thick, it will be a little stringy and needs to be trimmed. With a small sharp knife, gently cut at the base of the stem and pull away the "skin" of the rhubarb. It will come away in one swift motion. Continue until the entire stringy exterior has been removed. If the rhubarb is slender and young, you can confidently omit this step. Slice the rhubarb into 5 cm (2 in) lengths and wash well. Combine in a large bowl with the vanilla bean, sugar and water. Toss well to combine and allow to macerate for at least 1 hour. This can be done a day or two in advance, just refrigerate in this case.
Pre heat your oven to 180 °C (360 °F) and place the rhubarb, along with any juices into a shallow baking tray. Cover with aluminium foil and cook for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and check the rhubarb. It should be soft, but still retaining its shape. Return to the oven for a few minutes if it is still a little hard. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool.
For the pastry cream, place the milk and vanilla bean into a small heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the simmer. In a large bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornflour. Once the milk has come to the boil, pour directly onto the yolk mixture and immediately begin to whisk, so as to prevent the eggs from going lumpy. Once incorporated, return to the rinsed out saucepan and set over medium heat. Stirring continuously, cook until the mixture has just come to the boil and has thickened. Remove from the heat and push the mixture through a sieve or strainer into a waiting bowl. Allow to cool, then fold in the whipped cream to give the mixture a nice, light texture.
Cook the tart case (or cases), following these directions. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When ready to assemble, spoon some pastry cream into the base of the tart case, smoothing out a little. Top with the rhubarb, placing in an attractive pattern as you go. Drizzle over a little of the remaining juices from the rhubarb and serve at once, accompanied by ohh's and ahh's.
This tart can really be served on its own, it needs little in the way of accompaniment, but if you desire additional wow factor, a scoop of crème fraiche and vodka ice cream will take it pretty close to heaven.