As harsh as rhubarb might be in its raw form — exceedingly tart and with a decidedly fibrous texture — rhubarb is capable of the most amazing transformation, if you add just the right amount of heat and sweetness. Which probably explains why the vegetable is so often paired with strawberries or other sweet fruit — slowly simmered into jams, pie fillings or ice cream bases — and enjoyed so frequently in desserts.
Reader Murray Zichlinsky of Anaheim can't stop thinking about the rhubarb tart from Church & State in downtown Los Angeles. "It was scrumptious," he wrote us. "I would love to re-create it."
At once rustic and refined, the dessert starts with rhubarb stalks chopped into large pieces and slowly macerated with sugar to soften the texture and tame its astringency. After draining the pieces, they're suspended in a delicate flan-like custard filling, and baked in a buttery almond pastry crust until the custard is set and the rhubarb is tender and silky, lightly sweet and with just a hint of tartness. A perfect dish for any rhubarb fan, no strawberries or other supporting players needed. The restaurant was happy to share the recipe, so you can savor the tart at home.
CHURCH & STATE'S RHUBARB TART
1 ½ hours, plus macerating time and overnight chilling and draining times. Serves 8 to 10.
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Scant ½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup almond flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons butter, at room temperature
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, sugar, almond flour and salt. Add the vanilla and butter and beat over low speed until thoroughly mixed. Add the egg and mix until combined and the dough is smooth.
2. Roll the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap until it is approximately 12 inches in diameter. Refrigerate overnight before using.
About 1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1. In a bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar and set aside to give the rhubarb time to macerate for at least four hours.
2. Place the rhubarb in a nonreactive sieve or strainer and drain overnight, saving the syrup. (The syrup will be used to brush the tart after baking.)
Prepared pate sucrée
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
½ cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons cream
Rhubarb syrup (leftover from draining rhubarb)
1. Parbake the tart shell: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and fit into a 9-inch tart pan (if the dough is too firm to work with, set it out at room temperature briefly until it becomes pliable). Make sure the dough covers the edges and corners. Trim the top of the dough so it is flush with the top of the pan.
2. Line the shell with foil or parchment and fill with pie weights. Bake the shell until it is set, about 15 minutes. Remove the liner and weights and continue baking until the crust is a rich golden, about 15 minutes more. Cool the shell on a rack.
3. Prepare the custard base: In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornstarch. Stir in the milk and cream. This makes 1 1/2 cups.
4. Place the cooked tart shell on a baking sheet. Place the rhubarb in the cooled tart shell and pour the base over, leaving just a little space at the top. You might not use all of the base.
5. Bake the tart until the custard is set and lightly golden, 30 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway for even coloring.
6. Cool the tart on a rack before serving.
Each of 10 servings: Calories 366; Protein 5 grams; Carbohydrates 43 grams; Fiber 2 grams; Fat 20 grams; Saturated fat 11 grams; Cholesterol 68 mg; Sugar 19 grams; Sodium 35 mg
Note: Adapted from a recipe provided by Church & State in downtown Los Angeles.