No one who lives in Rhode Island needs to be told that winter, and early spring, was record-breaking cruel and unusual this year. And while it’s not exactly summer yet, there’s reason to hope that, with May around the corner, there really cannot be another devastating storm—at least not until hurricane season. Four whole months away! Let’s eat!
The edible signs of spring are late, but they are there. The maple syrup is in, there is nice rhubarb at the market, and the hens are laying eggs. Either one alone is cause for celebration. Rhubarb has become one of my late-in-life pleasures; pretty as it is (and I am a sucker for eye-appeal), I would not touch it despite being surrounded by rhubarb fanciers in my youth. I love it, as did my grandmother, stewed with sugar and eaten plain from a bowl, or stirred into yogurt. Maple syrup, in contrast, is a life-long friend; in the “don’t leave home without it” view of an essential item, I have small bottles of it in my glove compartment, my purse….have syrup, will travel. In Rhode Island it goes over countless johnnycakes, naturally, but also into countless sweet and savory dishes and my maple syrup whiskey sours. And eggs, a perfect food in its own right, are a sign of resurrection from the dead of winter like no other.
Choosing one over the other is too hard, and I’m one of those people who believe that playing favorites is unjust, so: equal time for all. Fairness is very satisfying, as this little tart attests. Of course, fair does not necessarily mean low-cal, low-fat, or low-carb, or low anything. In other words, fairness in baking is a universal good: it’s a delicious treat, one you deserve after the most brutal winter and early spring in 200 years. Restitution on a fork.
Rhode Island Maple-Rhubarb Tart
You can make this over a few days if you wish, making the dough and/or the purée the day before. The tart shell must be pre-baked blind. Makes one 9” tart; serves 6-8.
3 generous cups fresh rhubarb (about 1 lb of medium-size stalks, washed and trimmed)
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup sugar
¼ tea cardamom
1/3 cup Grade B maple syrup
Cook the first 4 ingredients for 5 minutes; add the maple syrup and cook about 5 minutes more, taking care not to scorch, until thick and coherent. Put it through a strainer. You will have a scant cup of purée. You can refrigerate it for making the curd later, or proceed.
1 cup rhubarb purée
Zest of 1 lemon
3 large egg yolks (reserve whites)
1 large whole egg
1 T maple syrup
2 drops red food coloring (optional)
12 T unsalted butter
2 T heavy cream
In a chef’s or other heavy pan with sloping sides, stir together the purée, lemon zest, egg and egg yolks, and maple syrup; I like to use a wooden spoon but you may prefer a whisk. Over low heat, stir/whisk the mixture continuously until thick and it just begins to bubble. Be careful not to curdle it; you may wish to do this over simmering water in a double-boiler. Check the color; if you don’t like it, you can add a drop or two of red food coloring; stir completely to incorporate.
Remove from the heat and beat the butter in, tablespoon by tablespoon, stirring until it disappears; put it back over low heat from time to time if needed. Stir in the heavy cream.
4 oz (1/4 lb, or 1 stick) unsalted butter, partially softened
¼ cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 ½ cups a-p flour
¼ tea salt
1 T heavy cream
Place the softish but still cool butter in a standing mixer and beat a minute or two till soft; scrape down the bowl and add the sugar, beat a minute, and then add the yolk and beat until incorporated. Add the flour and salt, beat until it comes together (it will still be a bit crumbly), then add the cream and beat a few seconds until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for several hours or overnight (dough can also be frozen).
Remove the dough and soften enough to roll by cutting it into several pieces and kneading them with your hand, then forming them back together into a disk. Tap the disk with your rolling pin, then roll it out quickly on a floured surface; once soft, it gets really soft. Lift the dough carefully into your tart pan, trimming the overhang to about ½”, and turn this overhand to the inside against the edge. Chill again for 15 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 375 F while it chills.
Remove the pan and flute the edge or press it with a fork. Prick the bottom with fork, and line the pan with foil and some weight (beans, rice, etc.) or a smaller-size pan. Bake 10-12 minutes; remove the foil/weight or pan, and bake another 5 minutes or so, until golden. Cool on a rack.
Finishing the Tart
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Pour/spread the rhubarb curd into the baked pastry shell. Bake the tart for about 12-15 minutes, until firm. You could now serve this with maple whipped cream made with good heavy cream, or finish it with:
3 egg whites, reserved from making curd
¼ tea cream of tartar
2 T Grade B maple syrup
1/2 cup sugar
Beat the whites at medium speed with the cream of tartar and the syrup until thick and foamy. Raise the speed to high and beat, gradually adding the sugar, until the mixture forms marshmallow-fluffy, shiny peaks.
If you do not have a kitchen torch, heat the broiler. Lightly oil the inside and rim of a flan ring the size of the tart pan or an inch smaller, and place it, oiled rim down, on the tart. Spoon the meringue into the ring, spreading it neatly and evenly out to the edges with a rubber spatula. Dip the spatula into the center and around the circumference to pull soft peaks out of the meringue. (If you don’t have a flan ring, just pile the meringue on.) Place the tart under the broiler until lightly brown (or use your torch). Put the tart in the freezer for 30 minutes (or up to 4 hours) before serving). Cut firmly and cleanly (do not saw) with a sharp knife.