It’s Melissa Clark Week! Here’s her phenomenal gift to Rhubarb lovers everywhere.
What Melissa Clark did for Asparagus earlier this week is now bookended by another seasonal favorite. It’s rhubarb which made its first appearance at our Organic Farm Stand, Serene Green, this week. Andrew is a devotee of Rhubarb, fondly remembering the annual appearance of a Strawberry Rhubarb pie in his childhood that he still dreams of. This post is one of 8 Rhubarb recipes on Chewing the Fat. Apparently, next to Andrew, the greatest devotee of Rhubarb is Melissa Clark. She is the author of 3 of the 8 Rhubarb posts. And if you are a fan you know the first rhubarb of the season is always the best. The thicker the stalks, the tougher and stringier the rhubarb. That likely accounts its love it or hate it reputation.
Rhubarb is actually an ancient Chinese vegetable.
Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable. It has been grown for at least 2700 years in China. It was brought to Europe by Marco Polo. But it didn’t arrive in the United States until about 1820. European settlers brought it to Maine and Massachusetts. From there it moved westward. Most of the commercial production of rhubarb is Washington, Oregon, and Michigan. It’s not the commercial production we in the East look forward to. It’s the first locally-grown rhubarb that’s looked forward to all over the Northern US and Canada.
If you are fond of Rhubarb you will fall head over heels for these Rhubarb Custard Bars.
A buttery shortbread crust is easily put together in the Cuisinart. Once baked, the filling is spooned over the top. That filling owes a great deal to Melissa’s favorite lemon bar recipes. The Rhubarb is made into a compote, simmered in sugar until it breaks down into a slurry. Cooled down a little, it is then mixed with eggs for the irresistible custard. A little flour is added to give it body so that when finished, the bars can be perfectly cut. The final addition is a garnish of the slimmest of your rhubarb stalks. A vegetable peeler makes ribbons that make this dessert instantly Instagramable. Here is the recipe, and links to another Melissa Clark recipe.
Melissa Clark's Rhubarb Custard Bars
The season's first Rhubard wrapped up in custard-y bar with a shortbread crust. Sensational!
- For the shortbread:
- 1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup/65 grams granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ¾ cup/170 grams cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1-inch pieces
- For the filling:
- 10 ounces rhubarb, sliced (2 1/2 cups), plus 1 slender red stalk for the top
- 1 ¼ cups/250 grams granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 to 2 lemons)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon finely grated orange or lemon zest
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
- Step 1 Heat oven to 325 degrees and line a 9-by-9-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving two edges long so they overhang the pan by at least 1 inch. (This is for lifting the bars out later.)
- Step 2 In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and process until a crumbly dough forms. Press dough into the lined pan in an even layer. Don’t clean out the food processor, you’re going to need it.
- Step 3 Bake crust until golden at the edges, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack and raise oven temperature to 350 degrees.
- Step 4 While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb slices and 1 cup sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until rhubarb releases its juices. Raise heat and bring to a simmer. Keep simmering, stirring once in a while, until the rhubarb breaks down completely, about 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the rhubarb and juices to the food processor, and let it sit with the cover off until it cools down a bit, about 15 minutes.
- Step 5 Meanwhile, using a vegetable peeler, lay the very pink rhubarb stalk on its narrower side. From the edge of the stalk, peel a long strip from the stalk. Continue to peel strips from the stalk, flipping it around the other side to keep it even. (This makes it easier to peel, but don’t worry too much about getting uniform strips.) Line up peeled strips and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths. Some may curl up, and that’s fine. You’ll have about 1 cup strips.
- Step 6 To the food processor, add the eggs, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, flour, zest and salt, and pulse until mixture is puréed. Pour into baked shortbread base, and carefully scatter the rhubarb strips on top. It should look a little like confetti. Bake until the filling is set and puffy, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely in the pan.
- Step 7 Once cool, use a butter knife to cut at the edges of the crust to release them from the pan, then use the parchment “handles” to lift up and transfer the pastry to a cutting board. Cut into 1 3/4-inch squares. Optional: Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.