Every Sunday, my parents used to follow a ritual. Hearing them say “on va au café” one hour or so after lunch only made sense for a few families in our small rural village. Indeed, it was not said in the usual meaning of the words. They actually did not intent to go to the café in the village but instead and no matter the season — although in summer it tended to happen less often — they would walk to a friends’ house for a social afternoon drinking coffee, eating dessert and chatting about the latest news. Each week someone else would host and clearly, the highlight for my brother B. and I was to anticipate what desserts would be made. This was all we cared about. When we were the hosts, my mum often asked me to prepare the desserts, adding casually “Tu les fais de toute façon mieux que moi ! ” (You do them better than I do anyway). I suspect that she was just being sweet, hence allowing me to use some of her space in the kitchen. And I am so thankful: this is how I learned to bake back then. Because I preferred them by far, I typically prepared sweet fruit tarts, varying in flavor according to the fruit in season. Whenever possible, we would use fruit freshly picked in our garden, between apples, quetsches, mirabelles, cherries, reine-claudes (greengage), berries of all sorts and rhubarb. You might find strange to believe this but between my mum and her two friends Monique and Jeanne, even with my eyes blind-folded, I would have been able to guess what tart belonged to who. Each of them had a specific taste, a je-ne-sais-quoi that was clearly speaking of each woman’s method to bake. Jeanne’s tarte à la rhubarbe and tarte aux quetsches were some of my favorites. Her touch with them was special. I was particularly fascinated by her dough and the perfectly balanced sweetness of the fruit that allowed for the acidic flavor of each fruit to dominate, without the need of eggs or cream. Every time it was Jeanne’s turn to host le café du dimanche, I was secretly hoping that she would bake a tarte à la rhubarbe.
I remember my impression the first time I had to buy rhubarb. Especially after I noticed its unwelcoming price. “Excuse me, but this must be a mistake, non?” I told the tall man I was used to see busy arranging the vegetable and fruit display in my local store. “It cannot be that expensive!” Didn’t people know that it could almost grow like a bad seed? Une mauvaise herbe ! Every spring, we used to have so much rhubarb that it was hard to keep up with it and know how to prepare it. We must have tried everything. And, when we grew tired of making rhubarb tarts, we would spend afternoons preparing preserves: compotes (stewed fruit), jams and syrup.
Of course, with this time gone by now, rhubarb has become a special treat for me, because even finding it can become a challenge. “No, we have a hard time getting it,” my vegetable man told me when I asked him if they had any on a recent visit to the store.
Contrary to common belief, rhubarb is actually a vegetable and not a fruit. Rich in vitamin C, this perennial plant is also full of dietary fiber. Like many I am sure, I have learned to eat rhubarb diced in tarts, with an egg/crème fraîche/sugar mixture. But many recipes vary according to regions and countries. In Alsace for example, it is typical to find rhubarb tarts with meringue on top, prepared similarly to a lemon meringue tart. My preferred recipe, however, is when I am able to skip these two and instead, keep this acidic vegetable almost intact so that it shines like a jewel, showing its beautifully complex array of colors and taste.
I started by cutting the vegetable in long sticks and sprinkled it with sugar so that it could loose some of its water — this step helps with the cooking process of the fruit. Then, instead of the commonly used eggs/cream/sugar mixture, I chose to top puff pastry with almond flour mixed with brown sugar flavored with vanilla seeds and freshly grated ginger. And the result? Maybe not Jeanne’s tarte à la rhubarbe, but a revisited zesty and gingery rhubarb tart that left me truly satisfied and happy. But then, this was quite predictable as I am a known sucker for rhubarb under most forms.
And if you are like me, you will hurry to go mad with rhubarb as long as it is in season. I am not looking forward to waiting until next year when it becomes available again!
- 10.5 oz puff pastry
- 1 lb + 2 oz rhubarb
- 2 oz fine cane sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds removed
- 2 inch ginger root, peeled and grated extremely thinly
- 3/4 cup almond powder
- 3.5 Tbsp brown raw granulated sugar + 2 Tbsp to sprinkle over
- Confectioner’s sugar
- Peel the rhubarb and cut it in 2.5 ” long sticks.
- Place them in a colander placed over a bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 cup fine sugar. Let rest for 1 hour so that the rhubarb looses its water.
- In the meantime, roll your puff pastry thinly and divide in four 8 x 4″ rectangulars, and place them on a baking sheet.
- Preheat your oven at 420 F.
- Make small holes with a fork leaving a 1/2 inch border. Cover with a plastic film and place in the fridge.
- Mix together the almond powder with 4 Tbsp raw brown sugar, the vanilla seeds and the ginger. Crumble.
- Take the dough out of the fridge and top with the almond crumble, leaving the border intact.
- Arrange the rhubarb sticks on top and sprinkle with additional 1/2 Tbsp on each tartlet.
- Cook for about 20 min. Remove and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired.
- 300 g de pâte feuilletée
- 500 g de rhubarbe
- 50 g de sucre blond de canne
- 1 gousse de vanille, fendue et grattée
- 5 cm de racine de gingembre, pelée et râpée très finement
- 80 g de poudre d’amandes
- 3.5 càs de cassonade + 2 càs de plus pour saupoudrer
- Sucre glace
- Pelez la rhubarbe et coupez-la en bâtonnets mesurant environ 6,5 cm.
- Placez-les dans une passoire placée au-dessus d’un saladier et saupoudrez-la de 50 g de sucre de canne. Laissez reposer pendant 1 heure pour qu’elle perde son eau.
- En attendant, étalez votre pâte finement et façonnez 4 rectangulaires mesurant 20x 10 cm. Mettez-les sur une plaque de cuisson.
- Préchauffez votre four à 210 C.
- Piquez la pâte avec une fourchette en laissant une bordure de 1 cm Couvrez-la avec du film alimentaire et mettez-la au frigo, pendant 30 min au moins.
- Dans un bol, mélangez la poudre d’amandes avec 4 càs de cassonade, les graines de vanille et le gingembre râpé. Émiettez du bout des doigts.
- Sortez la pâte du frigo et étalez cette préparation sur les tartelettes, en gardant la bordure intacte.
- Disposez les bâtonnets de rhubarbe dessus et saupoudrez avec 1/2 càs de sucre de plus sur chacune.
- Enfournez pour 20 min. Sortez du four et saupoudrez ensuite de sucre glace au moment de la dégustation, si vous le souhaitez.