I love the synthetic flavouring of rhubarb and custard, but for some reason, my own experience of cooking fresh rhubarb fails to deliver on flavour. I used to call rhubarb “pink celery” because that was how it seemed to behave when I tried to cook with it.
I came across a recipe on the Waitrose magazine that tempted me to give rhubarb another try. It looked fool-proof!! The ingredients that accompanied the rhubarb looked delicious. I had so much hope it would be a successful enterprise!
320g puff pastry sheet
70g icing sugar
230g double cream
400ml smooth orange juice
80g caster sugar
1 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
400g rhubarb, cut into 5cm lengths
Preheat the oven to 200˚C, gas mark 6. Transfer the pastry sheet to a large piece of baking parchment. Roll out thinly so that it’s big enough to line a 23cm loose-bottomed round tart tin. Flip the pastry on the parchment into the tart tin, remove the paper and use your fingers to press the pastry into the tin. Cut away any excess pastry, then prick the base with a fork. Line the case with baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden at the edges. Remove the beans and bake for a further 8-10 minutes, until golden brown and the pastry is cooked through. Leave to cool in the tin.
While the pastry cools, prepare the rhubarb. Put the orange juice, sugar, cinnamon and star anise into a large pan. Bring to a simmer, then add the rhubarb; cook for 4-5 minutes, until just tender but still holding its shape.
Use a slotted spoon to gently transfer the rhubarb to a plate, then leave to cool. Bring the liquid to the boil, then bubble until reduced by ½ (8-10 minutes).
Lightly beat together the mascarpone and icing sugar. Add the cream and whisk to soft peaks. Stir through the whiskey, then chill until ready to assemble.
Remove the tart case from the tin and put on a serving plate. Fill with the whiskey mascarpone, spreading until level. Spoon the rhubarb on top and drizzle with a little of the orange sauce. Serve the rest of the sauce on the side.
So what was the verdict? Well, the puff pastry base was a genius idea. The whisky mascarpone filling was beyond delicious. The rhubarb?….well, it was ok. It is not my worst attempt at rhubarb. Some of the pieces were softer than others. A few had that celery like crunch I was hoping to avoid. What disappointed me was a lack of flavour. I could not pick up the flavour of rhubarb. The spiced orange syrup was interesting, it went very well with the whiskey mascarpone, and it did a great job of disguising the disappointing rhubarb.
My guests all said they enjoyed this tartaleta, but I know that what they enjoyed most was all the deliciousness besides the rhubarb. I know that because there were some left over pieces of rhubarb on plates I collected from the table, whereas there was not a crumb remaining of the rest of the dessert.
So in all honesty, yes, this is a very pleasant dessert, the whiskey mascarpone is divine and the spiced orange syrup works very well, but unless you are blessed with knowing the secret of handling rhubarb so that it sings – you could use any other fruit that you think would go with those flavours. My nephew Wills suggested fresh banana. Robert thought blackberries.