Friday, April 8, 2011

A Taste of Spring

April showers. Tree buds. Tulips. Daffodils. Warmer weather. Longer days.

Asparagus. Peas. Fiddleheads.

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Spring lamb. Rhubarb.

All of these come to mind when I think of spring.

With spring well under way, I was inspired to cook a spring menu and invited my friend Suzanne over to sample it.


I recently picked up the latest issue of Fine Cooking and was immediately drawn to their editorial on lamb, which featured a number of recipes from various cuts of the animal. The one that caught my eye the most was the roasted lamb loins with mustard-herb crust. How tantalizing does the photo look? Yes, my thoughts exactly.

Oddly enough, I find lamb loin a difficult cut to get here. After searching several butchers at the market with no success, I settled on a boneless leg of lamb instead, which would work just as well.


Dijon and rosemary are a match made in heaven with lamb. Add some panko breadcrumbs and you've got the making of a perfect crust, adding a lovely crunchy texture and savoury flavour to the tender lamb. I first seared the lamb in a hot pan to create a nice brown crust before sticking on the crust and roasting it in the oven. The lamb was served with roasted asparagus drizzled with a French vinaigrette and lemony-mint couscous.

I knew for dessert I wanted to make something with rhubarb. To be quite honest, this was my first time cooking with rhubarb. I wasn't a big rhubarb fan previously. Perhaps I just didn't like the tartness of it when I was younger, or I just never had a dish with it that was made particularly well. But I was definitely willing to give it another try.

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Looking to another magazine for inspiration, I knew I had to make this gorgeous rhubarb-custard tart from one of my all-time favourite food magazines, delicious. It's a pricey magazine, as it's imported all the way from Australian (there's also a UK version out there in the market, but I much prefer the Aussie counterpart), but it's so worth it with its mouth-watering recipes and page after page after page of food porn.

Figures I would decide to make something that I just can't master. Custard is one of those few things that make me anxious in the kitchen. One mistake can lead to disaster. And while I had my eyes glued to the saucepan the whole time and never stopped stirring, I started to freak out when I saw little clumps forming on the end of my wooden spoon. My custard was scrambling!

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I did a quick fix by straining the mixture and pouring it back into a clean saucepan, and then added a bit more cornstarch solution to encourage the custard to thicken a little faster. This seemed to have done the trick and I have to say, while my tart doesn't even look half as beautiful as the one in delicious, it sure as heck is delicious! The tartness of the rhubarb cuts through the sweet, creamy richness of the custard, which is so, so luxurious.

The recipe asks for store-bought shortcrust pastry, but I opted to go with the sweet pastry crust from Dorie Greenspan's Baking. With a hint of almonds in it, it was the perfect base for the custard tart. If you weren't a rhubarb fan like I was, try this recipe. It might just change your mind!

Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Tart
Adapted from delicious, vol 7 issue 6

For the sweet shortcrust pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup finely ground almonds
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

For the filling:
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, plus 3 extra yolks
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
300 ml heavy cream
2 vanilla beans, split, seeds scraped
400g rhubarb, cut into 4-cm lengths
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
20g unsalted butter, chopped

For the crumble topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
50 g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sliced almonds

To make the pastry: Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas.

Add the egg yolk and process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, bring the dough together just to incoporate any dry ingredients tha tmight ahve escaped mixing.

In a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Poke the tart bottom all over with a fork, then cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. Bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Return to the oven and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is firm and crispy and turning a light golden brown.

To make the filling: Mix half the caster sugar with eggs, yolks, zest and cornstarch in a bowl. Place cream and pod and seeds of 1 vanilla bean in a heavy-bottom pan over medium heat and bring to just below boiling point. Slowly pour hot cream over egg mixture, whisking. Return to cleaned pan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 6 to 10 minutes until custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain into a bowl, then cover surface with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming. Set aside to cool.

Preheat a baking tray in the oven at 400°F. Toss the rhubarb in another baking dish with remaining caster sugar, vanilla seeds and lemon juice, then spread in a single layer. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon water and add vanilla pod. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes until rhubarb is tender but keeping its shape. Carefully remove rhubarb pieces and set aside, reserving juices.

To make the crumble: Place the flour, cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a bowl, add butter and rub together with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the almond slices and brown sugar, then scatter over a baking tray.

Pour cooled custard into the pastry case, then arrange the rhubarb on top, poking it under the custard a little. Place tart on the preheated tray and return to oven with the crumble topping. Bake the crumble for about 15 minutes (stirring the crumble tray occasionally), or until it begins to form golden clumps (the topping will crisp up as it cools). Bake the tart for about 18 to 20 minutes, or until tart filling is just set. Cool tart slightly, then carefully remove from pan.

Serve warm or at room tempearture, scattered with the crumble and drizzled with some of the reserved rhubarb juice.


Suzanne Ellis April 8, 2011 at 5:09 p.m.  

This was an absolutely delicious meal, start to finish! And inspired me to pull out my spring recipes/magazines!! Thanks again, B, looking forward to our next dinner party!! ;)

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