One by one, flashes of harsh light of an ignited match begin to awaken slumbering wax candles, bringing to life, a wondrous ambience of serenity and peace. Candlelight, a beacon of hope and comfort, slowly begins to illuminate the engulfing malevolent darkness with a soft flickering glow, manifesting what can only be described as balance, a duality, an interconnectedness of opposing forces; a poetic experience of the sacred and the adiamorphic.
Echoing silence fills the warm air, somehow melodious and romantic. The soft dimness of the room brings with it an arcane presence, warranted by the emergence, the awareness of the coven’s ever-faithful disciples; forced rhubarb. Rows of rhubarb lay before us, like lambs before their shepherd, their priest, eagerly anticipating words of wisdom and righteousness. Left to their own meditations, with their long ruby stems and pale, lethargic leaves they reach and stretch upwards towards the black velvety ceiling, like a sorcerer prostrating himself before the Gods of old, in search of truth and beams of heavenly-kissed light. And yet, silence. No calls of prayer, no glorification, no sanctity. Simply, a beauteous scene of life coming forth from the darkness, like a phoenix from the ashes.
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The scene above is what truly inspired me to create this small series on forced rhubarb. The magical, almost religious scene that played before me, captured my imagination and wonder. I didn’t realise that few actually are aware as to how rhubarb is actually grown and harvested. For a long time, I thought forced rhubarb was simply grown under a little pot in the garden. I had not realised the extent growers would go through in order to ensure a fruitful harvest: an activity solely done in the dark of night, or the dark of a windowless room, with a candle at hand. Harsh, solar light, would completely change the flavour, and perhaps the texture of the rhubarb, something the light of candles does not. What a shame, it would be, if it were to alter their singing voices too, for if you listen to recordings of forced rhubarbs growing, which, yes, I have unashamedly done, they do happen to have a rather peculiar set of vocals, that at first may appear rather melancholic, but later, one of excitement and enthusiasm. If you ever do get a chance to listen to a recording, do it.
As I have mentioned in other posts, there are so many classic flavour combinations when it comes to rhubarb. Here, I decided to play with my all-time favourite; rhubarb and custard. Since forced rhubarb is sweeter than normal outdoor grown varieties, I really wanted to experiment with a more savoury base in which the sweetness and nostalgia could interplay and really come to life, without becoming too unbearably sweet and sickly. Although, perhaps less feminine in appearance than intended, and more rustic and somewhat ruggedly charming, this tart truly dances on your taste buds: salty, savoury, floral, sweet, creamy, fruity, slightly spicy. I hope you enjoy as much as we have!
Gluten-free Rhubarb and Crème Anglaise Tart with a Fleur de Sel and Rosewater Crust
Makes: 9inch tart
Cooking time: 2+ hours
Perhaps the most significant alteration I have made to making this tart, would be the way in which I made the pastry dough. I really wanted to opt for gluten-free tart and experiment with a healthier alternative to the regular flour and butter-rich pastry shells. So, I decided to use raw coconut oil. It imparts a delicate but distinctive tropical aroma that really works with the salt, rose and the rhubarb, elevating the dish to a completely new level of sublimity. I have often used coconut oil as a make-up remover and moisturiser, amongst other things, but had never really thought of baking with it.
Fleur de Sel and Rosewater Crust
1tsp fleur de sel
1/3 cup chia seeds
1/3 cup potato flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1/4 cup psyllium husks
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup (non-glutinous) rice flour
1/3 cup + 2tbsp Vita Coco Raw Coconut Oil, room temperature
8-10tbsp cold water
1tbsp caster sugar
Place all the solids into a bowl, and stir until evening dispersed. Add the coconut oil and the rosewater to the solids and mix well until the mixture resembles wet, coarse sand. Add the cold water, one tbsp at a time, until the dough holds. Roll into a ball and set aside in the refrigerator.
Crème anglaise is a light pouring cream, however, instead of pouring it over the finished product, I decided to bake it along side the rhubarb curd in the tart shell, forming a custardy top and hiding the curd within.
300ml double (heavy) cream
1 vanilla pod
5 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
Place the double cream into a sauce pan on the hob and turn the heat on to a medium/low heat. Cut the vanilla pod in half, lengthways, and scrap out the vanilla seeds. Place these and the vanilla pod into the cream, staring occasionally, ensuring it does not come to a boil. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks and the sugar into a bowl and stir until combined. When the cream begins to simmer, take off the heat and add several tablespoons of the hot cream, one at a time, into the egg mixture, stirring fast and continuously (so as not to cause the egg yolks to cook and scramble). When ready, place the cream back onto a low heat and pour the yolk mixture into the cream, stirring continuously until the crème anglaise thickens slightly (it should still be loose enough to pour). Taken off the heat and pour into a bowl and cover it with clingfilm (tip: ensure that the film touches the crème so that no skin forms on top.) Set aside.
3 stalks rhubarb (approx. 400g)
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 2 blood oranges
1 vanilla pod
3tbsp muscovado sugar
1/8tsp ground cardamom
1/2 inch fresh ginger, cut into 3 pieces
50g caster sugar
1/2 cup – 1tbsp (80g) butter
1-2 tbsp (20g) Vita Coco Raw Coconut Oil, room temperature
5 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
Begin by turning the oven onto 170c (325f) or, for a fan-assisted oven, 150c. Cut the rhubarb into cubes, allowing 3-4 pieces to be cut into 10cm long slivers (I also cut these slivers into half, lengthways: these will be for decoration). Place these into a baking dish along with the lemon zest, blood orange juice, the vanilla pod (cut lengthways, with seed removed and added), muscovado sugar, rosewater, ground cardamom and fresh ginger. Give a stir, to ensure that the ingredients are well distributed, before placing in the oven for 15 minutes.
When ready, take out of the oven and place the long slithers of rhubarb (not the cubes) onto a separate plate and allow to cool. Set these aside. Remove the ginger and the vanilla pod from the baking dish and discard. Pour the rhubarb cubes, with its sauces into a saucepan and placing over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has completely broken down. Turn the heat off the oven up to 180c (350f) or, for a fan-assisted oven, 160c.
In a separate plate, mix the caster sugar and the corn starch together, ensuring there are no lumps left. Meanwhile, also separate the egg yolks into a bowl, along with the whole egg, stir well.
When the rhubarb begins to boil, add the butter and coconut oil, and turn down the heat slightly, stirring until the butter and oil have melted and are incorporated into the rhubarb. As with the crème anglaise, add 2-3 tbsp of the rhubarb into the egg mixture, stirring continuously so that the eggs do not scramble. When ready, add the egg mixture, along with the sugar and corn starch mixture into the rhubarb, continuously mixing until the rhubarb curd thickens and you can see the bottom of the pan when you are stir the curd. Take off the heat.
Taken the dough out of the refrigerator, and between two cuts of clingfilm, roll out the pastry (you do need to be delicate with the crust as it is not as flexible as regular pastry dough). Place into the tart case, filling in any holes or areas that may require more dough. Now, evenly spread the rhubarb curd into the tart shell, before spreading the custard on top of this and placing into the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top is golden and has only the slightest wobble in the centre (as it cools, the top will thicken and solidify). If you would like some meringue to decorate, see my post on my black sesame pavlova and simply omitting the black sesame, cornstarch and white wine vinegar. Add the raw meringue into a piping bag and pipe onto the custard top and, using a hand torch, scotch until golden brown. Serve immediately with the saved rhubarb slivers.
This recipe is an entry into the #Swearbyit challenge with Vita Coco. Find more great coconut oil recipes and tips on using coconut oil at www.swearbyit.com.
Thank you for reading.