Rhubarb Custard Tart

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    6 to 8

Appears in

The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen

By Paula Wolfert

Published 2003

  • About

People who love making rhubarb tarts tend to fall into two groups, each battling the other with the vigor of hockey players. The first group insists on simmering the rhubarb before baking it in a tart shell. Members of the second group are appalled. “Cooking rhubarb twice? For the most vibrant flavor, just sugar it, juice it, then add it raw to the filling.”

It’s true that sugar will temper raw rhubarb. The late British food writer Jane Grig-son, who wasn’t all that fond of rhubarb, described a pleasant memory of the fruit: “Sitting with my sister on a doorstep, each with a stick of rhubarb, and a saucer of sugar between us. We dipped and chewed, dipped and chewed in the warm sun, with clucking hens stepping round us.”

Learning of the raw rhubarb theory, I decided to test it myself. Last year, early in the rhubarb season, when the stalks were at their most tender and least stringy, I sprinkled one with sugar, let it stand for a while, then tasted it. It was an exciting, lively eating experience.

I decided then to join the only-cook-the-rhubarb-once group when making my rhubarb tarts. I now sprinkle the raw stalks with sugar, let them stand, then reduce the extracted juices, which are later added to the fruit and custard. I now declare that this rhubarb tart, containing as it does both the raw and the cooked, is the best, purest-tasting, most exciting tart for spring!

A good wine match would be a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise. Make the pastry crust ahead and macerate the rhubarb overnight.

Ingredients

  • Flaky Pastry, prepared, but fennel seeds omitted
  • pounds crisp, tender rhubarb stalks
  • cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons anise-flavored liquor such as Pernod, ouzo, anisette, sambuca, or Ricard
  • teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • 3 large whole eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt

Method

  1. Make the pastry crust. Use three-quarters of the dough. Save the remainder for some other purpose. (Scraps can be frozen for up to 6 weeks.)
  2. Make the filling: Wash the rhubarb, discard any leaves, and trim the ends. (Pull off the strings if the rhubarb is late season, old, or thick). With a very sharp knife, cut each stalk into 1-by ½-inch pieces. In a glass or ceramic bowl, toss the rhubarb with ⅓ cup of the sugar. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. The following day, preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a deep, 10½-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, or a fluted porcelain quiche pan, preferably 1 inch deep. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let soften slightly. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 14-inch thin round. Fit the dough into the prepared pan; press the dough gently into the bottom and up the sides of the pan without stretching. Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork and refrigerate the shell for at least 20 minutes, or until thoroughly chilled and firm.
  4. Meanwhile, drain the rhubarb in a colander set over a large skillet. Press firmly on the rhubarb to extract as much juice as possible. Boil the rhubarb juice over high heat until it is syrupy and reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the rhubarb to the pan and toss it in the syrup until coated. Stir in the anise-flavored liquor and orange zest. Let the rhubarb cool to room temperature.
  5. Line the tart with foil and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake on a baking tile or the bottom rack of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the liner and weights and return the pie shell to bake for 5 more minutes, or until just golden. Let cool to room temperature.
  6. Raise the oven temperature to 400°F. In a medium bowl, whisk the whole eggs with the egg yolk, cream, salt, and remaining ⅓ cup sugar. If using a tart pan with a removable bottom, set it on a jellyroll pan. Distribute the rhubarb evenly in the tart shell and pour half of the custard over it; let the custard settle, then pour on the rest.
  7. Bake the tart until the custard is golden brown and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Transfer the rhubarb tart to a rack and let cool completely. Serve the tart at room temperature directly from the porcelain quiche pan, or unmold before cutting into wedges. Do not refrigerate this tart.