Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rhubarb Custard Tart

I have a tendency to favor sour flavors. My grandfather owned a deli, so this might be some aftereffect of all the pickles I filched off the table during childhood. I shake up puckery citrus cocktails, mix salad dressings with lashings of vinegar, and have taken to buying my lemons from the restaurant supply store in 5-lb sacks. So it's no surprise that I adore rhubarb.

I love rhubarb's spring-bright astringency, especially after the heavier flavors of winter. I've been known to nibble raw stalks, or slice them paper-thin over salads (in addition to sipping my home-infused rhubarb liqueur). But even a sourpuss like me knows that rhubarb needs balance. I grew up with strawberry-rhubarb pie, pairing the puckery stalks with sweet spring berries. But here in Portland, our local strawberry crop hasn't come in yet. Which is fine with me, because I've got custard.

This tart is lovely. You first sweeten rhubarb ever-so-slightly with a bit of sugar (which also helps draw out the excess liquid that can sog up your tart), and then round out its pucker with a cup of sweet eggy custard. The surface of the custard will crack a bit as it puffs and then settles, creating an inviting, rustic appearance. Like rhubarb itself, this tart's season is fleeting--it's best enjoyed the same day you bake it. This shouldn't be a problem.

Rhubarb Custard Tart

Inspired by Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook, but tweak*tweak*tweaked according to my taste with my current favorite tart crust from Dorie Greenspan, and the custard that I adapted the heck out of from Saveur for my take on their Plum Custard Tart, further adapted for this recipe. Leftovers must be stored in the refrigerator due to the custard, which will sadly blunt the fresh-baked buttery deliciousness of the crust. Let leftover slices come to room temperature first. Or, better yet, eat them all the first day.

yields 1 9" tart

1 sweet tart crust, unbaked (I followed this great breakdown of Greenspan's recipe, swapping 1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour)
1 1/4 lbs rhubarb, washed and sliced in 1/2" pieces (or long thin batons if you want a more dramatic presentation)
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar, separated
2 Tbsp flour
1 pinch salt
1 cup half and half
3 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with 2 Tbsp of the sugar until it's evenly coated. Transfer the sugary rhubarb to a colander over the bowl, and let sit at least 2 hours to allow liquid to drip out. Overnight is fine too.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll out the crust and fit it into a 9" tart pan, prick a few times with a fork, and place in the refrigerator to chill while the oven is preheating.

Whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the flour and salt. Add a bit of half and half, whisking until it's a well-combined sludge. Add the remaining half and half, eggs, and vanilla, whisking until just combined.

Remove the crust from the refrigerator. Press on the rhubarb to expel any last bits of liquid, and scatter evenly (more or less) over the crust. Give the custard another whisk to re-mix, and pour gently over the rhubarb. Place in the oven.

Bake until the custard no longer jiggles in the center and is just beginning to brown, about 30-45 minutes. The filling will puff dramatically (but will settle back down as it cools). Remove from the oven and let cool a bit before serving.


  1. I love that I have so much rhubarb in the freezer and that you are my Rhubarby Guru! I am going to make this tart dough now, and bake up this tomorrow for when I have company. I'm using your whole wheat swap, too! I'm sure you won't steer me wrong...

  2. Rhubarby Guru is a title I shall wear proudly. Everybody gets so excited at rhubarb in the Spring that it's easy to forget it's in season for much of the summer. I should pick up some more at the market myself...

  3. I have a bunch in the freezer... and it's good that I use it so I have room for other things!

  4. MMMMMmmmmmmmm!!! Rhubarb custard tart. My mother always made plain rhubarb pie (no other fruit) and she made it quite tart. She always broke an egg into the pie. Her explanation was that rhubarb has a funny "fuzzy" taste and that broke the taste up for some reason. The funny tooth-coating taste is probably due to the calcium oxalate in rhubarb.

    You probably won't see this comment, as this recipe is about 2 years old, but I just ate a piece of rhubarb custard tart with a nut pastry (I believe it was walnuts or possibly walnuts and graham cracker crumbs.

    I'll use your rhubarb part of the recipe for this, but I think I'll look around for a nut tart pastry shell recipe, as I tend to save pie pastry for pies. . .