Friday, May 4, 2012

Spring can really hang you up the most: Rhubarb

Rhubarb at Longview Center for Agriculture
Worcester, Pa

(listening to: Gerald Clayton: "Bond")

Marcel Proust had his madeleine, but for me the smell of cut rhubarb takes me back to childhood. My mother would keep a bowl of stewed rhubarb in the refrigerator where it was ready to eat, chilled. I still make stewed rhubarb for a quick dessert. Cook two cups sliced rhubarb with about 3 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 cup water or orange juice until it softens and begins to fall apart. Taste and add additional sugar, if necessary. I like the tartness of the rhubarb balanced with just enough sugar to get the sensations of both sweet and tart. Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream or Greek yogurt. You could even crumble a shortbread cookie over the warm rhubarb.
Only the stems of the rhubarb plant are eaten. The leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid, but opinions differ as to whether that alone contributes to their toxicity.
For further reading:

You can make either a 10" tart or a 9" pie with this recipe. If you want to ditch the crust altogether, you can spread the filling into a baking dish along with the crumb topping and make a rhubarb crisp. Just reduce the cornstarch to 4 tablespoons for the crisp. I use cornstarch, not flour, to thicken fruit pies.

Rhubarb Crumb Tart
1 recipe pate sablee (recipe below)
crumb topping (recipe below)

6 cups sliced rhubarb (about 1 & 1/2 pounds rhubarb stems)
1/2 cup sugar (either white or light brown)
the zest and juice of one orange (you could substitute 3 Tablespoons water)
5 Tablespoons cornstarch

1. Place the sliced rhubarb into a bowl. Add the sugar, zest, and juice and mix to combine. Set the bowl aside for 20 minutes to allow the sugar to extract some of the rhubarb juices.
2. Roll out the pate sablee and fir it into a 10" tart pan. Trim off the overhang with your thumb; scraps can be saved and re-rolled for small cookies. Lightly prick the bottom and sides of the crust with a fork. Refrigerate or freeze the tart shell for 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the tart shell with a piece of aluminum foil. Fill the foil with rice and/or dried beans, or pie weights (the rice/beans can be save and reused). Place the tart pan onto a baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Remove the foil with the rice/beans and return the tart pan to the oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside to cool.
4. Mix the rhubarb with the cornstarch until dissolved. Spoon the rhubarb into the tart shell. Spread the crumb mixture evenly over the rhubarb. Place the tart into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool. A 10" tart will serve 8 to 10; a 9" pie will serve 8.

Pate Sablee 
I learned to make this at my first pastry job. It was in the middle of the summer and the dough kept breaking and falling apart. I thought my days were numbered, but apparently not. This dough can be a little tricky to use at first but it is very forgiving. Unlike other pie crust doughs, mistakes can be easily repaired and patched. Unlike traditional pie crust dough, pate sablee can be gathered back together and rerolled.
This is essentially a cookie dough which means you could mix it by hand with a spoon, the same way you would mix a batch of cookies.
Pate sablee needs to warm up before you use it. Remove it from the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. Cut it into pieces. On a floured surface, knead the pieces together until the dough is smooth. Roll the dough out to the size needed, with a thickness of about 1/8". Fit the crust into the tart pan, pressing the dough in place. Press off any dough that is overhanging the edge with your thumb. Lightly prick the sides and bottom of the tart with a fork; refrigerate or freeze the shell for 10 minutes before baking. The tart shell can also be assembled in advance and kept in the refrigerator or freezer until needed. Blind bake the shell as directed.

For one tart shell:
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 egg yolk (Grade A Large)
1 1/3 cups (plain) cake flour
½  teaspoon salt
½  teaspoon baking powder

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the butter with the paddle attachment until smooth. Add the confectioners sugar and slowly mix the sugar into the butter. When the sugar is completely blended, add the egg yolk and mix until smooth.
2. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add the flour mixture into the butter until incorporated and smooth. If the dough feels a little tacky to your fingers, add an extra tablespoon or two of flour. Remove dough from the mixer. Knead it together into a ball, if necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 to 6 hours before using. Makes enough dough for one pie shell, up to 11” in diameter.

Crumb Topping  (you could add oats or nuts to this, too)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 sugar
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1. Place the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer and using the paddle attachment, lightly mix together.
Add the butter and mix until small crumbs form. Set aside until needed. (Alternately, this can be mixed together by hand, cutting the butter into the flour/sugar mixture with a fork or pastry blender.)

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