Monday, April 23, 2012

Rhubarb Meringue Tart with a Pecan Shortbread Crust

 Rhubarb season in Indiana was like zucchini season in Vermont. People would practically leave boxes of the stuff on your porch begging you to take some off of their hands. Growing up, we would harvest rhubarb from two big patches in my grandmother's garden, which would then be made into pies by her and my mother. Here in the district, rhubarb is not quite as abundant, and I've been on a mad hunt for it at farmers' markets, grocery stores and local co-ops to no avail. As a last resort, I called up the nearby Giant store, and finally found some in stock--it wasn't as happy or fresh as the stalks from my grandma's garden, but it filled a need.

My rhubarb hunt was conducted with the intention of jam or tarts or pie (or all three), but I wanted something a little different from the classic rhubarb pie (though I did make a lil' somethin' with the leftovers, which I will share soon). I thought that the sour rhubarb flavor would work well as with a curd with meringue atop (which our house has been overflowing with lately, with our Tarts by Tarts lemon-ginger tartlets), and wanted to try a variation of the shortbread-and-nut crust I used for the grapefruit crostata. Inspired by a few rhubarb-and-pecan paired recipes like this one, a rhubarb meringue tart with a pecan shortbread crust was born.

Rhubarb Meringue Tart with Pecan Shortbread Crust
Filling adapted from Naturally Ella

For crust:
1 c. pecans, roasted
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
9 Tblsp. butter
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract (I used vanilla-bourbon)
zest of one small orange (I used a clementine)

For filling:
3 c. fresh rhubarb, diced
1/4 c. + about 1/2 c. water
1 1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
5 egg yolks (save whites for meringue)
3 Tblsp. butter, cut into chunks

For meringue:
5 egg whites
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 c. sugar

For crust:
1. Combine roasted pecans, flour, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor and pulse until pecans are finely ground. Add cold butter chunks to the pecan mixture and process until mix is the size of small peas. Add egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract and orange zest and pulse just until dough begins to form. Remove pastry dough from the food processor and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour and up to 1 day.

2. After at least one hour, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Remove the dough from the fridge. I rolled out the dough first(which was a little difficult, as it was crumbly), but you can also just press it into the bottom and sides of the tart pan. The bottom crust should be slightly thicker than the sides. Place crust in the freezer for about 10 minutes, then line with parchment paper and pie weights. Bake for about 20 minutes or until crust is dark brown. Remove pie weights and bake for 5 more minutes. Take from oven and let cool.

For filling:
1. Combine diced rhubarb and 1/4 c. water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let cook until rhubarb is soft and begins to break down. With an immersion blender (or a stand blender), purée until smooth and set aside to cool slightly. Once cooled, add enough water to bring purée to 1 1/2 c. (this should be about 1/2 c. of water). 

2. Add sugar, salt, and cornstarch to the purée mixture and cook over medium heat until it begins to thicken. Add in egg yolks, whisking after each addition. Continue to cook until mixture coats the back of a spoon, or reads 185 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Let cool to room temperature. Once cooled, pour filling into pie crust, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for about 2 hours.

 For meringue:
1. Once filling has chilled for 2 hours, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, mix egg whites and cream of tartar on high until egg whites begin to form medium peaks. Continue to beat eggs, gradually adding in sugar. Continue to beat eggs until they are glossy and can form stiff peaks. Spread over rhubarb filling, making sure the meringue seals the edge of the pie. Use the back of a spoon to curl meringue decoratively. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until egg whites begin to brown. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

The first time I made this, I was surprised by how the egg yolks transformed the subtle pink color of the rhubarb purée into an unrecognizable mustard yellow. I left it as such, but the second time around, I used 2 drops of natural red food coloring to tint the curd back to it's original pink hue. The yellow was not an unappetizing color, it just didn't really read as rhubarb.

This curd is something real special. I was hoping I'd have some leftover to fill doughnuts or spoon over a slice of pound cake, but my roommate and I armed ourselves with spoons and quickly polished off what little was left in the saucepans--rhubarb curd-stuffed doughnuts will have to wait until another time. If you don't want to go the meringue route, you can just sprinkle the tart with powdered sugar, perhaps in lines or a stenciled pattern. It would still be great.

We enjoyed this during a post-square dance rainy Sunday with a decadent sweet-savory pie that featured a cheddar-bacon crumble top (more on that soon!), sausage with red-eye gravy, Spudnuts (doughnuts made from potato flour), and beer-mosas. We also played cards and attempted to launch cascarones with a slingshot I made from salad tongs, rubber bands and masking tape. It didn't work, but it was a good brunch.

Related recipes:
Cheap Tart Bakery's Rhubarb Tart
Four & Twenty Blackbirds' Rhubarb Pie
Grapefruit & Pepper Meringue Tartlets
Simple Rhubarb Tart

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