26 June 2011

Plum Rhubarb Custard Pie

I bought an obscene amount of rhubarb these few weeks. To me they are like Cadbury Easter Eggs or Hallowe'en Kisses: Load up on as many as you can because they will disappear before long.

As a result, bundles of scarlet stems pack my fridge, they jut here and there and balance precariously on yoghurt tubs and containers of leftovers. Every time I open the door my ideas and experiments flood my my mind.

The other week a colleague brought in a rhubarb custard pie for the staff picnic. It was lovely--just sweet enough to let the fruit's tartness shine through. It was also something I'd not had before --a plain rhubarb pie or rhubarb or rhubarb-strawberry, yes, but a custard pie. No.

So that got me thinking.

Thinking about how custard pies scare me. Just a little.

Not scared in the sense that I break out in hives at the thought of someone leaping out from behind a hydrangea bush to slap me in the face with custardy-whipped creamy-crusty goodness

Scared...as in...they consistently cause problems...but in an inconsistent way.

Sometimes the custard just doesn't happen...and by that I mean it disappears. POOF. Gone. I don't know if it absorbed into the fruit or crust or simply decided to go AWOL when my back was turned.

Other times the custard just doesn't set. Slicing into the cooled pie reveals fruit in an eggy pools soaking into the crust.

No. I don't understand either.

Something happened when I made this pie. The custard not only appeared, but it set. It surprised me so much I made it twice to ensure it wasn't a fluke. It wasn't a fluke.

With my custardish conundrums overcome, I decided to infuse its cream sweetness with cardamom and match it with a compote of rhubarb and plums.

The result was visually stunning-- claret-coloured fruit swirled with primrose custard; its floral tartness contrasted against a sweet cardamom'd custard. I am quite happy with this.

The pie is easy to make, but is a bit involved. You can make things a bit easier for yourself by making the custard and compote a day in advance; the pastry can be made well in advance and frozen.

Plum Rhubarb Custard Pie
Yield: one 23cm (10") pie

For the crust
350g (625ml/2.5c) all purpose flour
0.5tsp (2ml) salt
1tsp (5ml) sugar
150g (165ml/0.66c) very cold (frozen, preferably) butter
65g (80ml/0.33c) very cold (frozen, preferably) lard
60-90ml (4-6Tbsp) ice water

For the fruit
250g (500ml/2c) rhubarb, chopped into 1cm pieces
250g (3-4) plums, chopped into 1cm
100g (125ml/0.5c) brown sugar
1tsp (5ml) vanilla
0.25tsp (1ml) salt

For the custard
310ml (1.25c) table cream (18% cream) or milk
0.25tsp (1ml) ground cardamom
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
100g (125ml/0.5c) sugar
1Tbsp (15ml) cornflour

For the crust

Mix together the flour, salt and sugar. Grate in the butter and lard and then rub into the flour mixture. You're looking for a rubbly mixture where some pieces are like coarse sand and others are no larger than the size of a pea. Sprinkle in enough water so the dough comes together. Form a ball and flatten into a disc. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the fruit mixture
Mix all the fruit ingredients together into a saucepan. Over a medium flame, bring to a bubble, stirring occasionally, and let cook for about 10 minutes or until the rhubarb softens and the juices are thick. Take off the heat and let cool.

For the custard:
Add the cardamom to the cream or milk. Scald the cream, take it off the heat and let cool.

Beat the eggs into the sugar. Keep on beating as you dribble in the slightly cooled cream.

Remove about a quarter cup of the mixture and mix in the cornflour to make a slurry.

Rinse out and dry the saucepan in which you scalded the cream. Return the cream mixture( (the one without the cornflour) to the pan. Over a low flame, stir the custard for a few minutes. Add the slurry and keep on stirring until thick and the custard coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and let cool

To assemble.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F

Roll out the pastry to fit a 23cmx5cm (10" x 2") tin. Blind bake for 20 minutes.

Spoon in the fruit mixture and then pour the custard over top. Level as best as you can and bake for 30 minutes.

The pie is done when the custard is just set.

Remove from the oven and let cool thoroughly before slicing. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if you wish.

- You can use pluots or apriums instead of plums
- If you can substitute vanilla for cardamom
- If you have a pastry recipe you prefer (or a store bought crust in your freezer), you can use that instead of the pastry I suggested.

cheers!jasmineI'm a quill for hire!

19 June 2011

Rhubarb Bread

Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb.

One thing springs to mind:

The theatre.

Yes, I know. You were probably expecting me to wax lyrical about how rhubarb is a harbinger of spring--it's vibrant scarlet stalks shooting from the earth, it tarty tang crying to be be paired with sweet strawberries or perhaps coated in sugar and roasted until tender in syrupy pink juices.

Nope. I think of the theatre...and more specifically, performing in grade school plays.

For two years my grade school had a teacher who loved putting on school productions. I auditioned both years and both years I was cast. Whenever a group of actors milled about onstage as extras or a crowd, the direction was say "rhubarb" to one another. Apparently, from the audience it sounds like muffled conversation, but without any real sounds to distract from the scripted dialogue.

But now that those aforementioned scarlet stalks are bundled and available for a few weeks at the market, I two things come to mind:

I wish I had rhubarb growing in my backyard.

I must eat rhubarb.

I fully admit to not being overly ambitious about how I eat it: roasted with sugar and vanilla is my favourite, followed by combining it with strawberries as a jam or in pie.

In researching what others do with rhubarb, I found many, many pies (including crumbles and crisps), preserves and fools, but fewer cakes and breads. Wanting something for my afternoon tea (well, more like my afternoon snack while tapping away at the office keyboard), I looked at a few recipes including this one, some of these and this one and came up with mine.

I'm quite happy with this moist quickbread. Sliced, it reveals hidden gems of pinks and greens. Even though there's a lot of sugar (by my standards) the fruit's sharpness still comes through nicely.

Rhubarb Bread
Yield One 8.5" or 9.25" loaf

175g (310ml, 1.25c) all purpose flour
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp (2.5ml) baking powder
0.25tsp (1ml) salt)
0.25ml (1ml) powdered ginger
0.25ml (1ml) cinnamon
75ml (0.25c + 1Tbsp) flavourless oil
150g (180ml, 0.75c) brown sugar
1 egg
125ml (0.5c) soured milk
150g (375ml, 1.5c) diced rhubarb
Optional: a few handfuls of granola (approx. 0.5c)

Butter and sugar an 22cm or 23cm (8.5' or 9.25")loaf tin. Preheat oven to 180C/350F

Sift together flour, bicarb, baking powder, salt and spices; set aside.

Beat together the oil, sugar, egg and milk.

Stir in the flour until about half of the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Tumble in the rhubarb and mix until just combined.

Pour into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle granola over top.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out cleanly.

Let cool fully before slicing. Serve as is or slather with clotted cream.

- I used milk that was just about to turn, but you can use buttermilk, a mixture of milk with yogurt or sour cream or add about a teaspoon or two of lemon juice or vinegar to a half cup of milk.

- If you want a crunchy topping, but don't have granola, use a struesel topping, or chopped or flaked nuts coated in brown sugar and melted butter.

I'm a quill for hire!

12 June 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Mini Buckles


Seeing that word on my favourite country market's sign means one thing: summer.

Even though summer officially arrives in about two weeks, to me and other food-loving locals, hearing Trevor's shop is open for the season means that summer is for all intents and purposes...here.

In amongst onions, peppers, apples and other fruits and vegetables which winter well, were signs of warmer weather: asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries. Peas will soon arrive. Next month a whole host of other crops will appear.

But moreso than any other hot weather weather crop, finding local strawberries in punnets and baskets signals a fleeting few weeks of snow-less weather has arrived.

It's still early in the season. The berries aren't quite as sweet as they will be in a couple of weeks, but they are much more like precious little gems than what the chain stores have on their shelves throughout the year.

I couldn't resist. I bought a punnet of berries and a bundle of rhubarb stalks. I've always loved their sweet-sour combination--not to mention the gorgeous deep pink colour they take on when baked in pies or cooked in jams.

This time I decided to make some mini-buckles--fruited cakes with a bit of a streusel topping, thus named for the cake's buckled appearance. The finished cake has a bit of a sweet, crunchy top; a tart soft fruit layer, and a dense vanilla cake base. The combination is (I think) absolutely fitting for an afternoon tea break....in a garden...in the sunshine.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Mini Buckles
Yield: 12

For the Topping
50g (60ml/0.25c) sugar
30g (60ml/0.25c) cake flour
30g (30ml/2Tbsp) cold butter

For the fruit:
130g (310ml/1.25c) chopped strawberries (fresh or thawed)
80g (180ml/.75c) chopped rhubarb
2-4Tbsp (30-60ml) sugar, to taste

For the cakes:
2Tbsp (30ml) yoghurt
6Tbsp (90ml) milk
1tsp (5ml) vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
100g (125ml/0.5c) sugar
55g (60ml/0.25c) softened butter
2Tbsp (30ml) flavourless oil
2 eggs, beaten
227g (430ml/1.75c/0.5lb) cake flour
0.25tsp (1ml) salt

Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
Line a 12-bowl cupcake tin with papers. and set aside

For the topping:
Rub together the sugar, flour and butter so everything is combined, but in varied pebble sizes (from grains of sand to no bigger than a pea). Refrigerate until you're ready to bake.

For the fruit:
Combine the strawberries and rhubarb with as much sugar as the berries dictate.

For the cakes:
Mix together the milk, yoghurt and vanilla. Set aside

Cream together sugar, butter and oil. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the the flour and by this point the curdled cream the the usual alternating method (flour-milk-flour-milk-flour), scraping down the bowl's sides between each addition.

Divide evenly between the cupcake bowls and level the batter as best as you can. Spoon equal amounts of the fruit mixture onto each cake. Cover with the topping.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the topping has turned a light golden colour and an inserted cake tester comes out cleanly.

  • As with pretty much anything using strawberries, try to use in-season strawberries. Better still, try and find local strawberries. If you're doing this out-of-season, then you may need more sugar.
  • If you'd rather turn this into one large buckle to slice, this recipe will proffer a 20cm (8") round buckle

I'm a quill for hire!

05 June 2011

Key Lime Poppy Seed Loaf Cake

Yesterday I awoke with two words running through my head: key lime.

Yes. It's an odd thought. At least it's an odd thought for me. I usually awake with a running commentary based on things I must do that day: get out of bed, take care of my ablutions, find something to wear, feed the cats, feed me, find my car keys, return this call, send out that email, rough out this project, book a meeting with that person...you get the point.

So to only have two words run through my mind was...refreshing. No fires to put out, no deliverables on my plate, no thoughts of anything remotely harried.

That said, those words were, I fear, like a palate worm: a foodish thought that becomes a craving so specific that it could drive me batty. The only thing I knew was regular limes wouldn't do and I didn't want a pie. No. That would be too easy.

After some thinking and searching (and passing by several recipes featuring what looked like spinach-dyed cakes), I decided upon something rather simple: a key lime poppy seed loaf cake. Yes, I realise now that my particular palate worm seems satiated with citrus + poppy seeds + cake.

It is a rather joyously yellow cake, flecked with green zest and blue-black poppy seeds. The colour isn't a total surprise as I used three egg yolks and three tablespoons of custard powder (anyone who has used Bird's custard has seen it go from near-chalk-white to the most lurid gold). The crumb is tender and just moist enough to be enjoyed with a cup of tea.

Key Lime Poppy Seed Loaf
Yield 1 x 20cm (8") cake or 1 x 22cm x 12.5cm (9"x5") loaf

6 key limes, zested and juiced
150g (0.75c) granulated sugar
85ml (0.33c) milk
145g (1c +2Tbsp) cake flour
1tsp (5ml) baking powder
0.5tsp (2.5ml) bicarbonate of soda
25g (45ml/3Tbsp) custard powder
a pinch of table salt
55g (0.25c) butter, softened
1Tbsp (15ml) flavourless oil
3 egg yolks
2Tbsp (30ml) poppy seeds
3 egg whites, whipped to stiff peaks

Preheat oven to 350F(180C). Butter and sugar a loaf or round cake pan.

Rub the lime zest into the sugar and set aside.

Mix the lime juice and milk in a measuring jug and let sit at least 15 minutes.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, custard powder and salt. Set aside.

Cream together the butter, oil and lime sugar. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next one. Mix in the flour mixture and curdled milk in the usual fashion (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry), scraping down the bowl after incorporating each wet addition. Mix in the poppy seeds. Fold in the egg whites in thirds: quickly stir in the the first third to lighten the batter slightly; fold in the next third not as quickly, and lightly fold in the final third so as not to lose the foamy nature, but not allowing streaks of white to remain in the batter.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden, springs to the touch and an inserted wooden skewer escapes cleanly.

Ice as or frost, as you will, but I prefer it just as is.

I'm a quill for hire!