Is there anything more summery than a fruit tart? (well other than the healthy alternative of simply fruit that is). As temperatures rise, nights draw longer & (hopefully) the sun begins to shine we are blessed with a plethora of colourful fruity offerings.
It’s the season of preserving, foraging & green fingers. This year I’ve even turned my hand to nurturing my own garden in an attempt to not only add more colour (I love flowers!) but also to grow some additional fruit… which I’m sure will mainly end up in jam. So far so good as I’ve managed not to kill anything as of yet… I feel rather like a proud mother as my marigolds & lavender grow ever larger (occasionally I feel the need to take photographs & tell others of their achievements).
One of my crops, rhubarb, which unfortunately hasn’t fared well this year (a heat wave in Wales if you can believe it!), is a favourite. These thick, blush stalks which arrive in spring spark all of my excitement for summer. Technically a vegetable with poisonous leaves, this tart perennial is an utterly British classic used in many much-loved desserts, most of which are simple & comforting. Natural (or main crop) rhubarb is a little less pink & a little more tart than its cousin, forced rhubarb.
Forced, or early, rhubarb is the winter crop which is available from January to April. Forced rhubarb actually came into existence by happy accident by all accounts. In Chelsea during winter of 1817, the roots of a rhubarb plant were accidentally covered with soil, when the soil was removed weeks later, tender shoots of rhubarb were found, these were a superior quality & flavour than rhubarb previously.
Today forced rhubarb is mainly grown in the ‘rhubarb triangle’ (where rhubarb only mysteriously vanishes if I’m around) of West Yorkshire. In the 1800’s, following the discovery of forced rhubarb, Yorkshire was the main growing region, producing over 5,000 tones annually. Today Yorkshire still produces around 70% of the country’s forced rhubarb. Known as the ‘rhubarb triangle’ due to its perfect growing conditions, rhubarb is grown in purpose-built forcing sheds (basically a dark shed). The roots are planed outdoors & allowed to grow their roots for 2 years before being lifted & moved into sheds. Here the rhubarb is kept in complete darkness, thus avoiding photosynthesis taking place & turning the plants green. The rhubarb is then harvested by candlelight to preserve their perfect pink colour.
Rhubarb became a diet staple in Britain during war-time, a time when shortages of pastry ingredients & rationing led to the popularity of an economical alternative, the crumble. Thus creating a much-loved British classic, rhubarb crumble (eaten with custard obviously).
But don’t simply relegate rhubarb to crumbles & compotes, it goes so well with an array of both sweet & savoury flavours (rhubarb gin anyone?). Not only does it taste good but its glorious colour can lend itself to some beautifully showstopping creations.
Not straying too far from tradition & taking inspiration from another popular (& amazing by its own right) British dessert, the Bakewell tart, I was curious how the sharpness of rhubarb would pair with the sweetness of a frangipane. Unlike the traditional Bakewell however, I wanted my rhubarb to sit proudly pink a top my bake, showcasing its summery colours.
For an extra bit of charm, I used the leftover pastry cuttings to make a few little flower decorations, adding to my summery showstopper. A simple glaze made from the leftover roasting juices (I really don’t waste food) really brings this tart to life, gleaming in the sunlight, tempting you to abandon any thoughts of a summer body. In true British custom, I made this one as a dessert to accompany a barbecue (held simply because the sun was out) & it went down well, even with full tummies.
RHUBARB FRANGIPANE TART
(makes one 22cm tart)
For the pastry:
- 125g plain flour
- 100g wholemeal flour
- 3 tbsp icing sugar
- 110g butter, cubed
- 3-4 tbsp cold water
For the frangipane:
- 175g butter
- 175g caster sugar
- 175g ground almonds
- 4 eggs
- 1 tsp almond extract
For the rhubarb:
- 400g rhubarb
- Juice ½ lemon
- 50g caster sugar
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- Begin by roasting the rhubarb
- Place the rhubarb into a large baking dish, large enough to lay all of the rhubarb in one flat layer
- Squeeze over the lemon juice, vanilla extract & sprinkle over the caster sugar
- Cover the dish with a layer of foil & roast at 180C for 10 minutes
- Remove the foil from the dish & roast for another 5 minutes
- Drain the rhubarb, reserving the juices & set aside to cool
- To make the pastry, in a large bowl sift together the flour & icing sugar
- Add the cubed butter & rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs
- Using 1 tbsp at a time, add just enough water until the dough comes together
- Flatten the dough until a disc, wrap with cling film & chill in the fridge for at least an hour
- Once chilled, roll out the pastry to around 3mm thick & use it to line a 22cm round cake or tart tin
- Pierce the bottom of the tart with a fork
- Place a sheet of baking parchment over the tart & fill with baking beans
- Blind bake the pastry at 180C for about 10 minutes, remove the baking parchment & beans & return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes
- To make the frangipane, simply place all of the ingredients into a large bowl & beat together until smooth
- Pour the frangipane into the pastry case & bake at 190C for 40 – 50 minutes, until the filling has set
- Remove from the oven & leave to cool on a cooling rack
- One the tart has cooled, carefully arrange the roasted rhubarb on top to cover all of the frangipane
- Place the reserved rhubarb juices into a small saucepan & bring to the boil
- Boil the juices for around 5 minutes until the mixture starts to thicken to a syrup, easily coating the back of a spoon
- Use a pastry brush to brush the glaze over the rhubarb