Rhubarb custard squares

PâtisserieA story about , , , , , Written on le Wednesday 24 June 2015.

rhubarb square

In Kusmark, the apple trees, now heavy with blossoms are buzzing with bumblebees. The rhubarb has grown taller than me. Strawberry and raspberry bushes are just starting to bloom.

Yes, every time we go there – more often than not on the weekend – I can’t stay away from the garden, mesmerised by how fast everything seems to grown around us.

Soon, potato flowers will come. And garlic and onions too.
And by the end of the summer, there will be enough apples in the tree for Svante to make forty litres of cider and a few apple cakes.

roasted rhubarb

But for now, it’s all about the rhubarb we take back with us to Skellefteå in paper bags.

Yes, I’ve made jam, which we spread thickly onto knäckebröd. And compote, stirred into fil and havregryn [oats].

And these little rhubarb custard squares which disappeared faster than we’d like to admit.

Rhubarb custard squares
Makes 10
These rhubarb squares have become a new favourite around here. They're - for me - a better version of the lemon squares we used to have growing up. Beautifully tangy, and with the earthy, floral flavour of rhubarb to match. The recipe itself is of the quick and easy kind. The shortbread is made. Rhubarb is roasted until just soft, and then blitzed with eggs, sugar and cornflour just so. And the "tart" gets baked until barely set.
Notes
  1. The shortbread dough will be slightly more than you need but you can cut out small disks (or other shapes) in the trimmings for almost-instant biscuits to have with your cup of coffee.
  2. When it comes to making rhubarb purée, I love to roast it until just soft. I've found that this brings out the rhubarb flavour, and also makes it so much easier to blend it to a smooth consistency.
  3. This is the kind of tarts you don't want to overbake, so keep a close eye on it after 25 minutes of baking, and as soon as the centre no longer jiggles, it's ready.
  4. It's fundamental to leave the tart to cool down completely - and even better to chill it for a couple of hours in the fridge - before slicing it.
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For the shortbread
  1. 375 g plain flour
  2. 100 g light soft brown sugar
  3. 25 g demerara sugar
  4. 1 tsp baking powder
  5. 1/2 tsp sea salt
  6. 250 g cold butter, cubed
  7. one egg
For the rhubarb custard
  1. 600 g rhubarb, trimmed and washed
  2. 2 eggs
  3. 125 g caster sugar
  4. 50 g cornflour
To finish
  1. icing sugar (optional)
Make the shortbread
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a 20x20cm tin with baking paper, making it go all the way to the top (so that you can use it as handles to take out the tart from its tin later on).
  2. Place the flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, and mix to combine. Add the butter, and rub it in the flour mix until it resembles coarse oats. Add the egg and work the dough until just smooth.
  3. Roll the dough between two sheets of baking paper until it’s around 8mm thick. Cut into a 20x20cm rectangle and place at the bottom of your prepared pan.
  4. Bake the shortbread in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.
  5. Set aside, while you get on with the custard.
Make the custard
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Chop the rhubarb into 4cm chunks and roast in the prepared baking tray for 10 minutes, or until just soft.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 150°C.
  4. Blitz the roasted rhubarb, together with the eggs, caster sugar and cornflour until smooth, and pass through a fine-mesh sieve.
  5. Pour the custard over the baked shortbread base.
  6. And bake for 30-35 minutes, until the filling has set.
  7. Allow to cool down at room temperature, then refrigerate for at least two hours.
Cut into squares
  1. Gently lift the tart - using the excess baking paper - from its tin; and place it onto a large chopping board.
  2. Dust with icing sugar and cut into squares, using a sharp hot knife, and cleaning the blade in between every slice using a wet cloth.
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Basic pâtisserie creams: la crème pâtissière

PâtisserieA story about , , , , Written on le Saturday 13 June 2015.

patisserie creams

The process.

Crème pâtissière is the starting point for many other creams, which we’re going to discuss over the next few articles.

It’s pretty straight-forward to make.

1. Bring milk and vanilla to the boil; allow to infuse for at least half-an-hour, then pass through a fine-mesh sieve.

2. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined. Then mix in the cornflour.

3. Bring the milk to the boil again and pour onto the egg yolk mixture.

4. Transfer back into the pan and cook until it starts to boil.

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A step-by-step

In case you need a little help, you’ll find a step by step here on how to make crème pâtissière.

patisserie creams-6

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Fundamentals.

The mixing:
Make sure to have a whisk ready when you add the sugar to the egg yolk, as they will need mixing straight away after the sugar is added to avoid “cooking” the egg yolks, which would become gritty. A rule I usually go by for pastry newbies is to weight out the sugar separately, add it to the yolks and mix.
This way, you won’t have to rush weighing out the sugar on top of the yolks, spooning out in case you added too much (which would leave the yolks in contact with sugar for too long).
Many books and references will call for mixing the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy, or to the ruban stage. This is absolutely unnecessary. Simply mix the egg yolks and sugar until combined, a whisk is a good tool for this; then add the cornflour or flour.
The cooking:
Cook your crème pâtissière over low heat and whisking at all time to avoid lumps. This way, it will cook the eggs and the starch evenly, thickening slowly.
Once the crème reaches the boil, keep on whisking for another three minutes while it simmers. This will make it super-smooth and fluid. You might even want to handblend it – off the heat – for a couple of minutes to get rid of air bubbles.
After:
Allow the crème to cool down slightly before adding any flavourings like orange blossom water or coffee extract, as they usually are volatile so it’s much better to avoid boiling them.
I like to transfer my crème pâtissière into a rectangle baking dish once it’s cooked to chill it faster and more evenly than in a bowl. In both cases, though, always clingfilm it to the touch to avoid the formation of a skin and condensation.
Always allow it to cool down completely, usually around 2-3 hours before using, although it will keep in the fridge for up to three days.
Before using the crème pâtissière, give it a good mix to make it smooth again, as it sets rather firmly.

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The basic recipe.

Adapted from Paris Pastry Club.

500 g whole milk
one vanilla pod
4 egg yolks
100-150 g caster sugar
50 g cornflour

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Applications

A good crème pâtissière is perfect to fill choux and éclairs, or a tart case which then gets topped with fresh fruits.

And as you’ll discover over the next few articles, it’s the base for many basic creams, such as crème mousseline, crème légère or crème Chiboust.

Sugar, acid and pectin content of fruits

PâtisserieA story about , , , Written on le Saturday 06 June 2015.

strawberry bush

It seems like we’re having a bit of a jam week around here.

I guess it’s only natural when the world around us blooms in an exponential kind of way. Here we’ve had a rather unusual month of May. Lots of sun. Lots of rain too. And because the temperatures rarely get above 20°C, once they will – perhaps after mid-summer – fruits will suddenly surround us.

I thought it would be nice to have a table to compare sugar, acid and pectin content of some of these fruits. Of course, those three factors will change depending on the degree of maturity of the fruits or their variety, but it’s a good starting point to adapt your favourite jam recipe for different fruits.

Should you add more sugar? Less pectin? More acid?
Hopefully this table here will help in answering your questions.

How to use the table?

Let’s take melon for example.

I currently don’t have a melon jam recipe. I do however have a killer strawberry jam one.
According to the table, I could make melon jam using my strawberry jam recipe, only I would need to add more citric acid at the end of the cooking process, as melon have an average pH of approximately 6, while strawberries’ pH is closer to 3.4.

Fruits with high pectin levels and low pH.

In the case of fruits with high pectin levels and low pH – like lemons, limes, cranberries, blackcurrants, oranges, gooseberries, grapefruits, mandarines or red currants – you probably don’t need to add much acid at all, and certainly don’t need to add extra pectin; as the fruits themselves offer the perfect conditions to form a gel (which for pectin are: sugar, acid, heat).

A quick note on citrus.

The flesh of citrus fruits isn’t high in pectin, while the zest and pips are.

What is pH anyway?

pH is a unit of acidity/alkalinity. A pH of 7 is considered neutral; above that it’s called alkaline or basic, and below that it’s called acidic.
It’s a bit of a shortcut, but what we fundamentally care about, here, is that the lower the pH the more acidic a fruit is. As you’ll notice in the table most fruits have an acidic pH, but only those with a pH ranging from 2-3.5 are empirically sharp.

Sugar, acid and pectin content of selected fruits

 %sugaraverage pHpectin level
Apple133.5medium
Apricot94low
Blackberry84.2medium
Blackcurrant102.8high
Blueberry113.2low
Cherry144low
Cranberry42.5high
Fig154.8low
Gooseberry112.9high
Grape164medium
Grapefruit63high
Guava73.6very low
Kiwi143.5very low
Lemon22high
Lime12high
Litchi174.8very low
Mandarin133high
Mango114very low
Melon76low
Orange112.8high
Passion fruit113low
Peach93.8very low
Pear103.8low
Persimmon145.4high
Pineapple133.5low
Plum113.4low
Raspberry73.4low
Red currant63.2high
Rhubarb13.1low
Strawberry73.4low