I’ll give her her due, forced rhubarb looks the business, but despite its candy-floss allure and its come-to-bed fruit-appeal, it still needs sugar; the forced stuff is marginally sweeter than the outdoors summer crop, on account of it having done a quick turn around on its carbohydrate reserves and sent them ‘toute suite’ into the stalks as glucose, but let’s not be fooled, it’s not exactly high on Haribo’s hit list.
However, rhubarb and almond are an exquisite pairing and one that is deserving of proper home-made custard. I serve this tart with a crème pâtissière laced with a little Amaretto, which is served cold and thick alongside the warm tart.
500g forced rhubarb (trimmed weight)
150g caster sugar
187g caster sugar
187g ground almonds
30g plain flour
30g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 170 ⁰C for the rhubarb, then increase to 180 ⁰C for baking the tart.
Before you do anything else, get your butter out of the fridge so that it can soften. And get your eggs out too so that they can come to room temperature, break them into a bowl and beat them together with a fork.
Start by baking the rhubarb; lay the whole stems in a roasting tin and cover with the caster sugar. Bake for 10 minutes before testing with the point of a knife (the stems closest to the edges will be done before those in the centre), depending on the thickness of the rhubarb they may need a few minutes longer, remove each stem as and when the point of your knife slips in without any resistance.
When all the rhubarb is done, scrape the contents of the roasting tin (the rhubarb juice and excess sugar) into a small pan and set to one side. This is going to be our little syrup that we’ll glaze the tart with when it comes out of the oven.
When the rhubarb is cool enough to handle, pour any accumulated juices into the pan along with sugar from the roasting tin.
Portion the stems into 5cm/2 inch pieces and divide the pieces into two piles; the perfect ones which will go on top and the ones that don’t look quite so good which will be hidden underneath the frangipane.
So then, the frangipane. Start by creaming together the sugar with the butter, use an electric hand whisk, or a stand mixer if you have one - you can’t achieve the same effect with a wooden spoon so easily - keep going until the mixture is fluffy, almost mousse like and has changed colour to an off-white, magnolia if you like, just the same as in making a sponge.
Now, with the beaters still running start adding the eggs a little at a time, by that I mean a tablespoon at a time. Mix each addition of egg thoroughly and continue in this way until all the egg is in. Have the flour to hand just in case the mixture looks like it might be starting to curdle and add a sprinkling of flour if you fear curdling may be imminent. If you get to the end of the eggs and you’ve still got flour left, it can be folded in along with the ground almonds.
So just like cake making, incorporate the ground almonds by folding in. The initial creaming of the butter and sugar introduces lots of air into the mix, so let’s not go and undo all our hard work by beating the living daylights out of it. Be respectful, gently does it. Also at this stage add a few drops of almond essence, how much depends on whether you’ve got cheap stuff or if you’ve got the real thing, and the only way to tell is to taste as you go, but just go steady, you don’t want it to taste synthetic, you only really want to accentuate the natural almondiness.
Scrape two-thirds of the frangipane mix into the tart case and use the back of a spoon to level it, going right up to the edges. Lay the ‘second class’ rhubarb pieces on top, and then cover over with the remaining third of the frangipane mix. Lay the last pieces of rhubarb neatly on top and finish with a generous sprinkling of flaked almonds.
That’s it done. Shove it in the oven at 180 ⁰C for probably 45 mins, but check after 30 mins, if it’s starting to take too much colour you might want to cover it loosely with some baking paper for the remainder of its time. When it’s ready it will be firm in the centre and slightly raised, just like a cake. If you’re unsure you could always insert a cocktail stick/metal skewer into the centre and test that it comes out clean.
Meanwhile, pop that pan of sugar and juices over a low heat and swirl to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat and let it bubble away gently for just a couple of minutes to create a little syrup – if it looks too thick add a teaspoon or two of water and heat again.
Use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the tart with the rhubarb syrup whilst both the syrup and the tart are still hot.