Spring begins with more fresh fruit offers in the market and the rhubarb is among them with the home-grown delicate pink to ruby red of champagne version. I say fruit because the rhubarb is generally regarded as a fruit (the stalk is eaten and there is no actual fruit), although botanically it is a vegetable. The fruitiness has probably become established because the acidic tartness of the vegetable needs the sweetness of sugar to balance it, and so it is popularly cooked in pies. This common use has led to the slang term for rhubarb, “pie plant“, by which name it was more commonly known in the United States in the late 19th century. In her novella The First Four Years, American author Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to rhubarb as “pie plant”. In former days, it was a common and affordable sweet for children in parts of the United Kingdom and Sweden was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in sugar. It is still eaten this way in western Finland and Norway, Iceland and some other parts of the world, including rural eastern Ontario. However in Chile the Chilean rhubarb is sold on the street with salt or dried chile pepper, not with sugar.
The popularity of the rhubarb in Great Britain and Germany
The rhubarb natives to Asia and it was known in the western world as a medicine long before it was recognized that the stems were edible (the leaves contain oxalic acid). Although rhubarb reached British shores by the 16th century, it wasn’t until the 19th that it began to appear on cookery books. Later on its popularity grew so much that by the end of the century it became the star of the afternoon tea time’s. Thus it spread from England first to Germany then to the rest of Europe (but it became popular only in Poland).
Rhubarb is a herbaceous perenniel plant which means it dies down each autumn and winter, only to grow again vigorously in the spring and summer. The prime season is late spring, but the plants are now forced to produce earlier crops of succulent, more tender stalks, often known as champagne rhubarb. The word champagne refers to the actual variety of rhubarb to be used. Commonly, it is stewed with sugar or used in pies and desserts, but it can also be put into savory dishes or pickled. Rhubarb can be dehydrated and infused with fruit juice. In most cases, it is infused with strawberry juice to mimic the popular strawberry rhubarb pie. Rhubarb root produces a rich brown dye similar to walnut husks. It is used in northern regions where walnut trees do not survive.
For cooking, the stalks are often cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces and stewed (boil in water); it is necessary only to barely cover the stalks with water because rhubarb stalks contain a great deal of water on their own; 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar is added for each pound of rhubarb. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger and/or nutmeg can be added to taste. Sometimes a tablespoon of lime juice or lemon juice is added. The sliced stalks are boiled until soft. An alternative method is to simmer slowly without adding water, letting the rhubarb cook in its own juice. At this stage, either alone or cooked with strawberries or apples as a sweetener, or with stem or root ginger, rhubarb can be used to make jam. Other fruits, with the addition of pectin (or using sugar with pectin already added), can be added to rhubarb to make a variety of jams.
Rhubarb cake with advocat liqueur
Ingredient for the crunchy dough: 140 gr sugar, 50 g almond, ground, 5 eggs, 1 pinch of salt, 100 gr flour
for the rhubarb & advocat liqueuer cream: 500 gr rhubarb, 300 ml rhubarb juice, 1 vanilla pudding, 120 gr sugar, 5 gelatine leaves, 200 ml advocat liqueur, 150 gr mascarpone, 500 gr cream
yields 50 minutes, before serving keep for 3 hours in the fridge
1. Caramelize 40 g sugar in 2 tbs of water, add the ground almond, then spread it evenly on the parchment paper. Wait until it gets cold. Split eggs, whisk egg white with 1 tbs water and salt until stiff. Add 100 g sugar to the egg yolks and mix with the flour. When the batter is ready spread it into the baking sheet and bake it on 180 grades for 20 minutes.
2. Wash and clean the rhubarb, cut into 2.5 cm slices, add 5 tbs juice to it, the pudding powder and 70 gr sugar. Mix ingredients together.
Heat the rest of the juice and cook for three minutes. Stir pudding mixture into the juice, pour over baked cake.
3. Soak the gelatin leaves into lukewarm water, press the water from them after 5 minutes. Pour the liqueur on mascarpone, and sweeten with 50 g sugar. First stir 2 tbs cream in then add the rest of the cream to cheese. Whisk cream until stiff. Add to cream mixture too. When the cream is ready spread over cake and place into the fridge for at least 2 hours. Decorate with strawberry and rhubarb.
Ingredients for the dough: 140 gr butter, 1 pinch of salt, 90 g sugar, 1 egg, 1 egg white, 230 gr flour, 40 gr almond
for the compote, cream and garnitur: 150 ml apple juice, 70 gr sugar, 1 pack vanilla sugar, 2 egg yolks, 50 g marzipan massa, 1 tbs rum, 50 gr butter, 800 gr rhubarb, 80 g caster sugar, 2 gelatine leaves
In a stainless steel bowl, placed over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla sugar and apple juice until blended. Cook, whisking or stirring constantly (to prevent it from curdling), until the mixture becomes pale in color and quite thick (like a hollandaise sauce or sour cream, 160 degrees F or 71 degrees C on a thermometer). This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and let cool to room temperature before filling the pastry crust. Can be made and stored in the refrigerator for about a week.
Sweet Pastry Crust: In a separate bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. Place the butter in the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, and beat until softened. Add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg, beating just until incorporated. Add the flour mixture all at once and mix just until it forms a ball. Flatten the pastry into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes or just until firm (can place in freezer for about 10-15 minutes.)
Meanwhile wash and peel 500 g rhubarb, cut into 2.5 cms slices, add sugar. Preheat the oven for 160 grades, steam the rhubarb with 20 g caster sugar on parchment paper in the oven for 15 minutes.
Lightly butter and flour, or spray with a non-stick vegetable/flour cooking spray, an 8 – 9 inch (20 – 23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom. Once the pastry has chilled sufficiently, evenly pat onto the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Lightly prick bottom of pastry crust with the tines of a fork (this will prevent the dough from puffing up as it bakes). Place tart pan on a larger baking pan and bake crust for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) and continue to bake the crust for about 15 minutes or until crust is dry and lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
Once the pastry shell has cooled, evenly fill with the rhubarb curd.
Add butter and rum to marzipan, roll it evenly and cover the curd tart with it.
The tart can be served immediately or covered and placed in the refrigerator until serving time. Serve plain or with softly whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
Rhubarb with orange mascarpone cream
Orange and rhubarb are lovely combinations and if Grand Marnier is available, the two are lifted even higher.
Ingredients: 350 gr 12 oz of rhubarb, cut into 1 and half cm, 2 tbs of caster sugar
for the mascarpone cream: 3 egg yolks, 75 gr caster sugar, 5 tbs orange juice, 1 heaped tbs orange marmalade, 175 gr mascarpone cheese, 3 tbs Grand Marnier, 150 ml double or whipping cream
Place the rhubarb and sugar in a large saucepan with 3 tbs water. Cook on low heat, allowing to simmer gently for 6-8 minutes. max 10 minutes. If the rhubarb is too syrupy once cooked, drain in a sieve and reboil the juices until reduced its volume and thickened. leave to cool. Once cooled the softened rhubarb can be spooned into glasses. Coctail glasses are very attractive.
To make the mascarpone cream, place the egg yolk, sugar and 3 tbs of the orange juice in a bowl. Sit this over a pan of simmering water and whisk vigorously until at least double in volume. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until cold.
Warm the remaining 2 tbs of ornge juice with the marmalade, then strain through a sieve or tea strainer. Beat the mascarpone until smooth, mixing in the softened marmalade and Grand Marnier if using. This can be foded into the cold egg sabayon. Whip the cream until thickened but not firm. Fold into the mascarpone and sabayon mix, and spoon on top of the soften rhubarb.