Friday 19 January 2018

Recipes: Brenda Costigan with a delicious range of desserts

This lovely, sharp-tasting plant is easy to grow and even easier to use in a delicious range of desserts, says Brenda Costigan, such as custard tarts, crumbles, sponges and pies

My interest in rhubarb was rather indifferent until years ago, when I came across a Canadian recipe for rhubarb custard tart and I was hooked.

Rhubarb is delicious combined with orange juice -- the easiest dessert of all is to simply stew the chopped stems of rhubarb in the juice of a large, freshly squeezed orange, then sweeten it with plenty of sugar. Recently, I have started to add a packet of blackcurrant jelly into the cooked rhubarb in the pot, stirring it gently until it has dissolved. If the resulting mixture is not a full 600ml (1pt), a little water may be added. Turn into a bowl and allow it to set. Rhubarb can be grown with the greatest of ease in most Irish gardens, yielding a constant supply of the lovely, sharp-tasting stalks all through the summer.


This pastry can be used to make the rhubarb custard tart and the tartlets, both below. Ideally, the butter should be firm, but not rock hard from the fridge.

You will need:

175g (6oz) flour, not self-raising

25g (1oz) caster sugar

80g (3oz) butter, cut in lumps

About 3 tablespoons cold water

Put the flour and the caster sugar into a bowl and rub in the lumps of butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Alternatively, this can be done in a food processor. Add just enough cold water to the dry ingredients to hold them together. Knead lightly and allow the pastry to rest for about 30 minutes before rolling it out so that it's slightly larger than the tin.


A favourite in our family! Even if you don't particularly like rhubarb, you should enjoy this. Like a quiche, thinly sliced rhubarb is piled into a pastry case and topped up with a mixture of eggs, cream and sugar. If you find that the base of your tart has not cooked nicely in the oven, try a chef's tip: after baking, place the whole tart over a hot ring on top of the cooker for about 30 seconds to crisp the base -- but take care not to burn it! Alternatively, preheat a pizza stone in the oven, then bake the tart on top of it.

You will need:

Shortcrust pastry (see recipe above)

500g (1lb 2oz) rhubarb, thinly sliced

2 large eggs

1 egg yolk

Enough milk or cream (or half of each) added to eggs to measure about 325ml (a generous ?pt)

75g (3oz) caster sugar

1 teaspoonful orange zest, finely grated (optional)

1 teaspoonful root ginger, finely grated (optional)

A few drops of vanilla extract

Use a sandwich tin with a base 23cm (9in) in diameter, lightly greased. Ideally use a tin with a lift-up base.

Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6. Roll out the shortcrust pastry, making it a bit larger than the tin, and ease it in -- do not stretch it to fit as it will shrink in the oven. Do not trim the edges until after baking.

Put the thinly sliced rhubarb into the pastry case and shake to distribute the slices evenly. Do not press them down, or pieces of rhubarb may pierce the pastry and the custard will leak out. Lightly whisk the eggs, the egg yolk, and the milk or cream, whichever you are using, but avoid making them frothy. Mix in the caster sugar, the finely grated orange zest and the finely grated root ginger, if you are using them, and the vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into the pastry case -- it should almost cover the rhubarb. Bake the tart in the oven for about 35-40 minutes until it is cooked. The custard mixture should be set and golden brown in colour and the pastry well cooked. Leave the tin to stand on a wire tray for a few minutes before lifting the tart out of the tin. Serve hot or cold.



Using the same basic recipe as the rhubarb custard tart, above, this makes 6-8 individual little tartlets, which are rather nice for a special occasion. Approximately half a fat stick of rhubarb is enough for each tartlet.

You will need:

Shortcrust pastry (as above)

3-4 thick sticks of rhubarb (about half a stick per tart), thinly sliced

Custard (as in large tart recipe above, but adding only enough cream to the eggs to measure approx 250ml (8-9fl oz)

Use 6-8 little tart tins, 8cm (3 1/2in) across the base, ideally with a removable base, lightly greased. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it in the oven.

Make the shortcrust pastry, then roll it out and cut in rounds measuring about 15cm (6in) and use it to line the tins. Arrange the sliced rhubarb very neatly in the tartlet cases. Make the custard as per the rhubarb custard tart recipe, above, and pour it gently over the rhubarb to just reach the top of slices, but not cover them completely. Place the tartlets directly on to the pizza stone or put the tartlets on a baking tin and place it in the oven. Bake the tartlets for 20 minutes or until they are golden brown and the custard has set. If the tartlets are on a baking tin, lift them off and put them directly on to the oven shelf to bake for about five minutes extra. Leave them to stand on a wire tray for five minutes before lifting them out of the tin.


Using wholemeal flour gives this a nice crunch. Serves 6.

You will need:

550g (1lb 5oz) rhubarb, thinly sliced

Juice of 1 orange

50-75g (2-3oz) sugar

150g (5oz) plain or wholemeal flour (or use half and half)

25g (1oz) ground almonds

50g (2oz) caster sugar

75g (3oz) butter, cut in lumps

25g (1oz) flaked almonds

Creme fraiche or ice cream, to serve

Put the thinly sliced rhubarb into a saucepan along with the orange juice and cook it gently for a few minutes to soften the rhubarb, without making it mushy. Add the sugar and pour the mixture into a wide ovenproof dish.

To make the crumble, place the plain or wholemeal flour, or half and half, whichever you are using, the ground almonds and the caster sugar into a bowl. Rub in the lumps of butter -- or buzz in a food processor -- until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Scatter this crumble mixture over the rhubarb mixture. Scatter the flaked almonds on top.

Bake in the oven -- preheated to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6 -- for about 25-35 minutes until the topping is lightly browned. Serve hot, accompanied by creme fraiche or ice cream, whichever you are using.


Add 50g (2oz) chopped almonds or chopped hazelnuts to the crumble mixture.


Serves 5-6.

You will need:

450g (1lb) rhubarb (medium-sized bunch)

Juice of 1 orange

90-100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) caster sugar

2 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

150g (5oz) self-raising flour

A little milk

Choose a wide, ovenproof 1.25L (2pt) dish. Preheat the oven to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5. Top and tail the rhubarb stalks, wash them and cut them into 2.5cm (1in) lengths. Put the rhubarb into a saucepan with the orange juice and cook it gently for a few minutes to soften it without turning it mushy. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Leave this mixture to one side while you're making the sponge.

Beat the butter in a bowl until it is soft, add the caster sugar and beat the mixture again until it is soft. Beat in the eggs one at a time with the vanilla essence. Then stir in the self-raising flour. If the mixture is very stiff, add a little milk.

Pour the hot rhubarb into the ovenproof dish. Drop small spoonfuls of the sponge mixture all over the rhubarb. Spread it out evenly as best you can -- it will join up during cooking.

Bake for about 45 minutes until the sponge is golden and cooked through. Be sure to test the centre with a skewer. The sponge is cooked when there are no doughy particles clinging to the skewer. Serve hot or cold.


This rustic tart is easy to make. The pastry, which is rather like a scone dough, is rolled out into a circle, then the prepared rhubarb is spread out in an even layer, leaving a wide margin around the edges, which is then folded up around the edges over the fruit, leaving the centre part of the tart uncovered.

For the pastry, you will need:

225g (8oz) flour (not self-raising)

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1/2-1 teaspoon cinnamon

150g (5oz) butter, cut in lumps

1 small egg, beaten

A little cold water

For the filling, you will need :

350g (12oz) rhubarb, thinly sliced

2 bananas, thinly sliced

50-75g (2-3oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) chopped walnuts or mixed nuts, toasted

3 generous teaspoons cornflour

1 tablespoon blackcurrant jam

1 tablespoon melted butter

2 tablespoons blackcurrant jam, softened

Cream, ice cream or creme fraiche, to serve

Use an upturned baking tin, as you can easily slide the tart off it after baking.

To make the pastry, in a bowl, mix together the flour, the caster sugar and the cinnamon. Rub in the lumps of butter -- or buzz in a food processor -- until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Put aside a tablespoon of the beaten egg for brushing on to the pastry later. Add enough cold water to the remaining egg to measure about 100ml (4fl oz). Add only just enough of this liquid to the dry ingredients to make a moderately soft dough. Knead the dough lightly on a floured board and leave it, covered, in a cool place while the filling is being prepared.

To prepare the filling, put the thinly sliced rhubarb and the thinly sliced bananas in a bowl, adding in the caster sugar, the chopped and toasted walnuts or mixed nuts, whichever you are using, and two teaspoons of the cornflour, and mix together.

Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6. Roll out the scone-like pastry into a circle about 33cm (13in) in diameter -- I find it handiest to place a large piece of baking parchment under the pastry as I roll it out. This allows me to slide it on to the upturned tin, before putting on the filling. I leave the baking parchment in place during baking. It's important to make sure there are no holes in the pastry, as the juices will escape if there are. Patch any holes with a bit of pastry, brushed with water to make it stick.

Mix the tablespoon of blackcurrant jam with the remaining cornflour. Spread this mixture in a circle on the centre of the pastry, leaving a 7.5cm (3in) border all around the edge. Pile the partly prepared rhubarb mixture on top of the jam. Fold the border of pastry up over the filling, pleating it here and there to make it fit snugly, then moisten the pleats and pinch them to keep them closed. This will leave a circle of fruit visible in the centre.

Brush all of the exposed pastry with the tablespoon of beaten egg that you put aside earlier. Slide the assembled tart on to the upturned tin. Bake the tart for about 30-40 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and the pastry is golden.

Brush any exposed rhubarb with the softened blackcurrant jam. Carefully slide the tart off on to a flat serving plate. Serve warm or cold with cream, ice cream or creme fraiche.


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