A seasonal affair: Rhubarb, Strawberry and Thyme tarts

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Rhubarb, strawberry and thyme tarts

We’re now well into winter. Now having passed the winter solstice, it means the days will get longer and eventually, warmer days will be here. I keep dreaming of the gorgeous berries and stone fruits that are in season during the warmer months. But right now, I keep seeing a lot of rhubarb.

A few years ago, when I had first started my cooking, I had not realised the value of seasonal produce. I had made a pavlova in June/July and I was determined to top it with some fresh berries. I could not find a single punnet of blueberry, and the raspberry prices were ridiculous! Now I pay more attention to what is available during the seasons. Having my own herb garden also helped me figure out what is in season: basil not so much in winter, but my thyme is still thriving.

Apart from fruits and vegetables being cheaper when they are in season, it also means we are getting them in their prime. They are most fresh and ripened during their season.  Plus it’s also great for the environment if we’re choosing to eat seasonal produce.

I am still not too familiar with what is available during the colder months in Melbourne. Maybe my cooking style is more summer-friendly. Hence, I had never cooked with rhubarb before, and since I kept noticing their bright pink colour every time I go to the supermarket, I thought I would try it out in a tart. I knew it had a tangy taste, and expected to hate this, but the tartness actually helped cut through the sweetness of the pastry and the creme patissiere (creme pat). I thought the mini tart I had made was quite big, but it was all too easy to wolf it down in one sitting.

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One of the new things I’ve done this time is the creme pat. I had always thought it to be a time-consuming process, but if you follow the instructions, it’s quite easy. And definitely worth it! In some of my previous posts about eclairs and profiteroles, I had just used store-bought thickened custard to fill them, but now I know that homemade creme pat is far more superior and holds it’s shape better.

Ingredients:

Vanilla pastry:
– 225 grams flour
– 60 grams icing sugar
– 1 egg
– 112 grams butter, chopped
– 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Creme Patissiere
– 375 millilitres whole milk
– 75 grams caster sugar
– 15 grams flour
– 15 grams cornflour
– 4 egg yolks
– 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Rhubarb and strawberry topping
– 50 grams sugar
– 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
– half a lemon’s juice
– 1 bunch rhubarb
– 1 punnet strawberries
– few sprigs of thyme
– water (enough to cover fruit)

Method (Makes 8 mini tarts):
1. – Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
– For the pastry, in a food processor, process flour, icing sugar, vanilla bean paste and butter till they resemble fine breadcrumbs.
– Add the egg and process till the mixture comes together. Turn on to a lightly floured surface and form a disc. Wrap in cling wrap and rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes. When forming a disc, be careful not to over-work the mixture.
– Remove the pastry from the fridge and let it soften (for about 15 minutes). On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to about 3mm thickness and line 8 small tart tins with pastry. Trim the sides with a knife.
– Fill the tart tins with baking paper and pastry weights (or you can use uncooked rice).
– Blind bake the tarts in the oven for 20 minutes. Then remove the pastry weights and bake for further 10 minutes or till they start to turn brown.
2. – To make the creme pat, bring the milk and vanilla bean paste to boil, in a saucepan, over medium heat. Once it boils, remove from heat.
– Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together till pale. Add the flours together and whisk till combined.
– Add 1/3 of the warmed milk to the egg mixture, while whisking vigourously. Then add the egg mixture into the saucepan over medium heat, while whisking constantly.
– Whisk the mixture till it thickens, being careful to not let the mixture burn on to the bottom of the saucepan.
– Remove from heat, and cover the mixture with cling wrap to prevent from a skin forming. Use once the mixture has cooled.
3. – To prepare the fruit, wash and trim the rhubarbs and cut them in half. Trim the strawberries and halve them.
– Put vanilla, sugar, lemon juice, thyme and water in a wide frying pan over low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the fruit and let it simmer for 5 minutes. We want the rhubarb to soften, but not break down.
– Remove from heat and let the fruit soak in syrup, for at least 1 hour.
4. – Fill the tart cases with creme pat and top with fruit. Once you’ve used up all the fruit, put the syrup on heat to reduce, until sticky. Brush the fruit with the fruit glaze with a pastry brush.

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Happy eating! What are your favourite tart toppings?

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