When I was 15 I worked weekends and Tuesday nights at the supermarket, and every break I would spend the equivalent of an hour’s pay on my meal, which often included a little container of vanilla custard with a portion of rhubarb in the corner. I’d scoop it out with vanilla biscuits and my love affair with custard and rhubarb began. I’ve been a devotee ever since – the tartness of the rhubarb with the sweet and creamy custard is an absolute delight.
FOR THE CUSTARD
2 cups milk
2 vanilla pods or 2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp cornflour
¼ cup caster sugar
Zest of 1 orange (reserve juice)
FOR THE RHUBARB
10 stalks rhubarb
1l3 cup caster sugar
Juice of 1 orange
400g sweet shortcrust pastry
1 egg yolk, beaten
1. To make the custard, put the milk into a medium saucepan, split the vanilla pods and scrape out the seeds, and add the seeds and pods to the pan (or add vanilla extract). Bring just to the boil, then remove immediately from the heat. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together until pale and creamy. Remove the vanilla pods from the milk, and gradually pour the warm milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly.
3. Return the custard mixture to the saucepan, add the orange zest (reserving a little for garnish), and cook gently over a low-medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk until the custard thickens. This may take 10-15 minutes. Be careful not to let the custard boil, as the egg may split. Pour into a jug or bowl and cover with cling film. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.
4. Line a 20 x 30cm tart tin with baking paper. To make the tart, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a large rectangle big enough to line the tart tin. Roll the pastry onto the rolling pin and carefully drape it into the tin, lifting and pressing it into the corners and edges. Roll the rolling pin over the edges of the tart tin, cutting off the excess pastry. Chill for 30 minutes or until the pastry is firm.
5. Heat oven to 180°C. Line the pastry with a piece of crumpled baking paper and fill the base with baking beans or rice and “blind” bake for about 30 minutes. Remove the paper and the beans, and return tart to the oven for another 5 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Brush the inside of the tart with the beaten egg yolk and return to the oven for 1 minute to set. This is to create a seal so that the custard doesn’t make the pastry soggy. Set aside.
6. Wash, trim and slice the rhubarb into pieces about 8cm long. Slice them on an angle if you want to create a zig-zag pattern (lay them out in the pattern you want on the tray before cooking, so you know that it’s going to all fit), or just cut them straight if you want the rhubarb to be in straight lines.
7. Cover a baking tray with sides with a sheet of baking paper, place the rhubarb batons on in a single layer and sprinkle over the sugar and orange juice. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb has softened but is still holding its shape and a lovely pink syrup has formed. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
8. Remove the custard from the fridge, beat to loosen, then pour the custard over the pastry and smooth with a spatula. Top with the roasted rhubarb, brush or drizzle any of the syrup on
top, and sprinkle over some extra orange zest. This is best eaten on the day it’s made.
Custard must be cooked low and slow, and stirred constantly until it thickens. If it boils, the eggs may begin to separate, and become the consistency of scrambled eggs. You can use store-bought custard in place of the homemade custard, if you prefer.