July 2019, Bake #2: Cardamom Rhubarb Tart
July 12, 2019
A couple of weeks ago at work they served these little sweet rolls that were injected with a cardamom-rhubarb custard. They were delicious! Seeing as I was on something of a rhubarb kick, I figured I’d try this flavor combination (a.k.a., “flav comb”) in my next baking project.
Hence, the cardamom custard and rhubarb tart!
When I searched for a recipe featuring the card-rhub flav comb, this beautiful tart popped right up. I guess I am a sucker for crimson chevrons, because this tart’s chockablock with ‘em!
Lost in translation
The recipe was SUPER BRITISH* and included many ingredients I was unfamiliar with:
Thickened cream: This is basically what we in the States would call Heavy Whipping Cream, but has some extra junk in it. It is NOT what Martha Stewart refers to as “thick cream”, which as far as I can tell is some kind of yogurt-y/kefir-y dairy gloop that may very well be delicious but which I suspect would be quite inappropriate to use in this particular recipe.
Vanilla bean paste: I checked three different bougie grocery stores here in SF and none of them stocked it. Fortunately, this ingredient seems to be culinarily equivalent to vanilla extract, except it has little visible flecks† of vanilla bean in it. So I substituted with normal extract, and to recreate the flecks, I found some black crumbly gunk underneath the fridge and threw it in there. (I did not actually do this.)
Golden caster sugar: A fine-quality sugar with a pale gold-brown color. It is apparently not really a thing here in the States. Caster sugar is a grade of sugar that is not particularly easy to track down in the U.S. I have been using C&H’s Baker’s Sugar instead, and it seems to have been working for me fine so far?? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Since I was doing so many ingredient substitutions, I decided to look around for some other custard recipes, ones that didn’t provide measurements in nonsense milliliters and grams.
I actually ended up making a pastry cream** rather than a straight custard, the main difference apparently being that a pasty cream is thickened with cornstarch.
For the edification of future generations, let me now list out Greg’s Official Taxonomy of Sweet Thickened Egg Goops:
- Fruit curds (different from curds-and-whey curds, which do not have eggs in them) contain fruit juice/zest but no cream, flour, or cornstarch.
- Custards come in many different types:
- Crème anglaise is generally what British folks are referring to when they say “custard”. It is thin enough to be used as a pourable sauce, and is generally used as a side or topping for desserts.
- Crème pâtissière, a.k.a. pastry cream, is thicker than crème anglaise (as I mentioned above, pastry cream is often thickened with cornstarch) and is used as a filling for pastries.
- There are many custard-based desserts, including crème caramel (a.k.a. flan (but not in the UK, where a “flan” is a different type of dish altogether which may not have any custard in it at all! (Thanks, Europe, for not being confusing at all!!!))) and crème brûlée. The two aforementioned dishes involve preparing custard with caramelized sugar.
In all these cases, cooking the Thickened Egg Goop involves standing at a stovetop and stirring for half-a-friggin’-hour. All the recipes and YouTube tutorials say “stir for 3 to 5 minutes”, but they are DIRTY LYING LIARS. I have made curds and custards several times now, and they have taken a hot 30 minutes to properly coagulate. Maybe I’m doing it wrong????? I dunno; futher experiments are required.
Oh, also! I bought whole cardamom pods like the CLASSY MOTHERTRUCKER I am. I mean, I ground this stuff down with a mortar and pestle and everything, all olde-tyme apothecary style.‡ I am supicious this was all just a bunch of unnecessary work on my part, but the final custard did come out SUPER rhubarby, and maybe it was the freshness of the grind that helped contribute to this?
The recipe also called for premade shortcrust pastry! PREMADE?, I asked myself. What is this, AMATEUR HOUR???
In its place, I decided to use the tried-and-true vodka pie crust I’ve made a few times before. I already talked about making this crust in my previous post so I won’t bore you with those details.
I am getting half-decent at making pie crust by now! Rolling out the dough was less of an ordeal this iteration, although I still had some trouble with cracking around the edges of the dough as I rolled it out.
I’ll be honest: I was kind of sloppy about lining the tart pan. It came out looking decent nonetheless, but after watching some videos about the process, I see that this step is CRUCIAL if you want a pro-looking tart at the end of it all. In particular, the sides of my tart shrank a substantial amount. It’d be worth researching and experimenting with techniques to try and minimize the shrinkage. (heh heh, shrinkage, *snicker*)
To cut of the extra dough around the rim of the tart, I pressed the rolling pin against the top edge of the lined pan. I can’t find the video where I learned this technique, but it is extremely effective and cool.
Another approach, which seems more work-intensive but may also result in a better outcome, is the one demonstrated here by a friendly tattooed British lady:
The final piece of the pie (or piece of the TART in this case, hey-oh!!!!) was the rhubarb topping.
I blanched (DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire) the rhubarb. Blanching (Devereaux, The Golden Girls) is a great way to cook things, namely because it is a verb that is also a woman’s name. Anyway, I put a METRIC BUTTLOAD of sugar into the water before boiling it up (because rhubarb is so g’dang tart that it needs some serious sweetening before it’s properly edible) and then tossed some cut-up rhubarb rods in there.
I actually had more rhubarb than I needed for the tart, so I experimentally blanched (Douglass Leathers, the first woman steamboat camptain) blanched a few rods to learn a bit more about how rhubarb cooks. I am GLAD I DID. Because it is not obvious when rhubarb is done cooking, and if you overcook it it because mushy and gross. Given that I was planning to delicately arrange the rhubarb into chevron pattern atop my tart, I wanted the stalks to be firm enough to not fall apart in my hands.
Also, I don’t think I technically ended up blanching (Scott, possibly the first woman aviator (and while I understand the reasoning, I’ve gotta admit I’m a bit bummed we’re not using the word “aviatrix” anymore, because it’s a cool and fun word and that’s just how I feel)) the rhubarb, because I didn’t plunge it into ice water at any point of the process. I just let the rods cool their own dang selves off. I mean, COME ON! I can’t be expected to do ALL the work for the rhubarb! It’s got to bring a little something to the table, too.
I guess I’m eating it, that’s what it’s bringing to the table. WHATEVER, THE RHURBARB TURNED OUT FINE
I poked the rhubarb with a knife to determine when it was done. If the knife slides in easy, it’s done! Just for good measure, I pulled one out and munched on it to make sure it wasn’t going to be too fibrous and not the sort of thing you’d want to surprise you in a tart.
Oh, and after I was done blanching (leader of Team Mystic) the rhubarb, I boiled down the remaining sugar-rhubarb water in the saucepan into a think syrup that I later used to glaze the tart.
Putting it all together was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. The tart crust was pretty sturdy, and I was able to shlep all the custard into it with minimal difficulty.
The custard was straight out of the fridge, so it didn’t flow to the edges of the tart crust very easily. I needed to wait for it to warm up a bit, and then mooshed it around with a spoon. I even ran the spoon under superhot water to help encourage the custard to be a bit more malleable. I know – FASCINATING, right?
Arranging the rhubarb on the top of the tart was not nearly as fiddly as I was expecting. All my rhubarb was cut into 5cm rods, and I started from the center and worked my way to the edges. Eventually, I reached a point where I couldn’t fit any more full-sized rods without running them over the edge of the tart. At this point, I custom-chopped the rods to fit into the corners of the tart. The rhubarb was soft enough that I needed to give them a really forceful, clean chop, but it worked out just fine.
Finally, I glazed the rhubarb rods with the syrup I boiled down earlier. I glazed ‘em once, then I glazed ‘em again. That makes for two – count ‘em, TWO! – layers of glaze.
Why did I do that? BECAUSE I DON’T FOLLOW THE RULES, THAT’S WHY
Actually, I did it because my wife suggested I do it that way.
How did it turn out?
I am actually extremely pleased with how it turned out! The one main change I would make is I might tune down the amount of cardamom in the custard, because it was VERY cardamom-y. I personally like that taste, so the boldness of the cardamom flavor was interesting to me, but I could definitely see it being a turn-off to someone with a less REFINED and SOPHISTICATED palate (read: MORE refined and sophisticated palate) than my own.
I was also quite happy that the rhubarb was soft enough not to interfere with my enjoyment of the tart.
However, the tart was not as much of a crowd-pleaser as was, say, the cakes I have made in the past. In fact, I think this was the first baked item I brought to work that wasn’t gobbled up immediately. This was mildly disappointing at first, but no longer, as I have since taken a different view of the matter, which I will summarize to you now:
This is the first time during this whole baking project of mine where I’ve created something that feels “signature”, in the sense that the only way I’m going to be able to enjoy a cardamom rhubarb tart is if I bother to make one myself. (I think the flav comb is more common in Scandanavian countries – but to be honest I’m suspicious that Scandinavia is not a real place, and in fact just an elaborate myth concocted by a bunch of bored Finns.)
Pretty much all my other baking projects have been relatively common, straightforward things that I could have purchased at a bakery or grocery store. (I guess the American Flag Pie also filled this criterion, but I never got to eat that one so it DOESN’T COUNT.) Which isn’t a BAD thing – it’s still exciting to be able to make something from scratch myself – but only now am I seeing the TRUE POWER of my new hobby!
* (and by BRITISH I actually mean AUSTRALIAN)
† Aside: I have some inchoate Opinions on people’s obsession with vanilla flecks as Proof Of Incredible Quality, but I will spare you from them (… FOR NOW)
** Or crème pâtissière if we’re being fancy, which OF COURSE WE ARE
‡ This is appropros of nothing, but the first time I ever encountered the word “apothecary” was in playing the Myst-like computer game Connections with my brother. Connections was based on the television series of the same name starring James Burke, which is frankly a fantastic show and I don’t understand why (1) it isn’t more well-loved and (2) why none of the bazillion streaming services haven’t bothered to make a re-boot of it.