Simple Rhubarb and Custard Tart


Sometimes when a recipe appears visuals-first to me the result is abundantly successful, like these Marble Heart Cookies. And sometimes, in the case of today’s recipe, which I envisaged decorated with pink plaited ropes of shaved rhubarb fibres to tumultuous applause and frantic, viral sharing, it…simply doesn’t work. The stringy fibres did not braid smoothly, producing a bedraggled, limp and hairball-ish rope that immediately unravelled. So I set aside that folly and continued with this Simple Rhubarb and Custard Tart unadorned but for some green tendrils of thyme, and perhaps it’s for the best: chewing through a fibrous lashing of interlaced rhubarb would be, at the least, counterproductive, and the brink-pink splendour of the rhubarb stems themselves provide their own plentiful visual spectacle.


The custard component is more of a streamlined frangipane-esque paste (but I haven’t actually called it frangipane lest the ghost of Escoffier rises from the dead, leaps through the window, and cudgels me with a jug of mother sauce for squandering the name) using fragrant almonds for their texture and rhubarb-juice-soaking properties and custard powder for its billowing creamy vanilla presence. Rhubarb is so viciously sour — just thinking about it sends shivers up my tastebuds — that it benefits greatly from being surrounded by sweet, smooth ingredients that balance without diluting that bracing fizzy tang. Like putting a scorpion on a sateen cushion and giving it a 1980s glamour photoshoot: there may be vaseline on the lens, yet the sting remains.


The ‘simple’ claim of the title is in earnest. The hardest thing about this recipe is parsing out my instructions for scoring a one-inch border on your sheet of pastry. Once you’ve got that sorted it’s a bit of chopping and arranging and barely twenty minutes in the oven to achieve golden, puffy parapets of pastry surrounding sugar-softened buttresses of rhubarb in the same electrifying carmine as a late-summer sunset. The custard below is gooey and rich without overwhelming the sharpened steel edge of the rhubarb, and the thyme leaves lend a little herbal sophistication and contrast. It’s lively enough to be dessert, but sliceable enough (though I recommend a serrated knife) to serve with coffee or a pot of tea during daylight hours.


Despite my frequent vocal assertion that keeping sheets of ready-rolled pastry in the freezer means you’re prepared for almost anything, I have not actually logged a ton of recipes that use this ingredient. However, if you’re wondering what to do next, I might nudge you in the direction of this Easy Apple Tart recipe. And if you’re blessed with so much rhubarb that this recipe alone cannot adequately serve you, there’s always my Rhubarb, Raspberry, and Cardamom Jam and Vegan Rhubarb Panna Cotta.


Simple Rhubarb and Custard Tart

A gorgeous and easy rhubarb tart, sour-sweet like fizzy candy, with flaky puff-pastry bearing tender rhubarb stems like tubes of pink liquid lipstick on a shelf. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 sheet of frozen ready-rolled puff pastry (roughly 25x25cm)
  • 1 tablespoon custard powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk, plus extra for brushing
  • 2 tablespoon sugar, plus 2 extra tablespoons for the rhubarb
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon each almond and vanilla extract (optional)
  • 250g trimmed rhubarb stems
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1: Set your oven to 200C/400F. Cover a baking tray/cookie sheet with baking paper, and set your pastry square on the paper. Score a 1-inch border on the pastry by running the tip of a sharp knife over it to draw a smaller square inside the edges — without actually slicing through — and then stab the square of pastry inside that border in a few places. This will make the border puff up while the central square stays flat once the tart is in the oven.

2: Stir the tablespoon of custard powder and two tablespoons of milk together in a small bowl then stir in the first two tablespoons of sugar (reserving the remainder for the rhubarb), the half cup of ground almonds, the quarter teaspoon of salt, and the quarter teaspoon each of vanilla and almond extracts, if you’re using them. Chop the rhubarb into lengths that will fit within the central square of the pastry — as you can see I went for a sort of alternating size vibe, but whatever works.

3: Spread the almond-custard mixture in a thin, even layer over the internal/central square in your sheet of pastry, then arrange the rhubarb slices on top, making sure to keep them within the scored border. Sprinkle the remaining two tablespoons of sugar over the rhubarb, brush the pastry border with a little milk, and bake the tart for about 18 minutes, or until the border is puffed and golden brown (though keep an eye on it if your oven runs hot, as burnt pastry has little to redeem itself.)

Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the cooked tart and let it sit, out of the oven, for ten minutes before slicing it into pieces with a serrated knife. This is best consumed on the day it’s made, after which point the pastry starts to wilt, but there is something to be said for fridge-cold leftovers.

Note: if you don’t have thyme you could use fresh rosemary leaves instead, or leave out the herb element altogether. If you don’t have custard powder you can use the same quantity of cornflour (cornstarch) plus a little extra vanilla extract.


music lately:

Autobahn by Kraftwerk. Sometimes you need to listen to a sternly whimsical sitcom-length song that is so far ahead of its time that it’s still ahead of our current time, that makes you not so much feel like you’re driving but like you are in fact a car itself, anthropomorphically enjoying the road endlessly regenerating beneath you.

Leave Them All Behind by Ride. To be honest, you could turn it off right after those tremulous raindrop-staccato organ riffs at the start and it would still be an all-timer.

Tell Me by Groove Theory, an objectively perfect R’n’B song. Objectively!

Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington, as featured in Paris Blues, this could make you feel warm and relaxed in the middle of an icy tundra, but then just as you’re getting too somnolently cosy these strident ripples of horns come in to alter your brain chemistry.

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