June 01, 2012

Rhubarb + Custard = Springtime Dessert Pleasure

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the outpouring of support that I received from you all this week—turns out, much to my surprise, that I have readers. Readers. A stray few that turned into a stray few more, that turned into an outpouring of emails and support and page views when I went “public” this week (me and facebook—albeit on very different scales).

Thank you.

For my part, I’ll try not to be daunted by the fact that this is no longer a secret pursuit, and I will trek on, starting right now with custard and rhubarb and a tillandsia in the background (don’t eat the tillandsia).

I thought I would continue on my last-gasp-of-spring theme and dig up a rhubarb recipe. I wasn’t sure what at first—crumble or coffee cake? compote or pie? And then it struck me—could one make a rhubarb clafoutis? Something warm and custardy and oozing of fruit, scented of lemon, and crinkly and curled in all sorts of delicious ways on top? Yes. Apparently, one can. I googled the phrase “rhubarb clafoutis” and came up with a fair few options. They were all roughly the same, give or take a few small additions or subtractions here or there; some with cinnamon, a few with citrus, all with that roasted rhubarb base and a decadent layer of yellow custard on top.

I’ve always wanted to make a clafoutis. Somehow daunted by what seemed too lovely to be very manageable, I’ve learned now that, in fact, it is one of the more simple desserts that one could possibly make. I’ve also learned that without using the traditional black cherries as your fruit, the dish is properly called a flaugnarde—the roots of which derive from words meaning “soft” or “downy.”

The dish is indeed soft, as custards often are, but especially so when eaten warm out of the oven. In this state, it is also fragrant and pillowy and oozing—all things that should be strived for when it comes to dessert consumption.

Thick slices of rhubarb are roasted in cinnamon and sugar in a tart or custard dish, and then, once softened and brought down to room temperature, a mixture of eggs, milk, flour, vanilla, sugar, and lemon zest is poured directly over top of this once sputtering, bright pink fruit. Into the oven it goes once more and within the hour you will be eating a warm, springtime custard. Perfect for evenings with a slight chill in the air; perfect for a midday picnic; perfect for breakfast the next day, even when it has chilled and firmed and has become, suddenly, sliceable—perfect, really, for anytime at all. 

Roasted Rhubarb Clafoutis (more accurately referred to as Roasted Rhubarb Flaugnarde), adapted from theKitchn

2 cups rhubarb, sliced to a thickness of 1/2 inch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup flour
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the rhubarb and place it directly into your custard or tart dish; toss it with the cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Let this macerate for approximately 10 minutes, or until the juices of the rhubarb have begun to yield.

Roast the rhubarb for 20 minutes or until it is bubbling and soft when pierced with a fork.

Remove from the oven and let it cool until it is just warm and no longer hot and steaming.

While the rhubarb is cooling, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar; whisk in the milk, and then the flour, lemon zest, and a pinch of salt. Whisk the batter until the flour lumps have dissolved, but be a bit gently with it so that the batter doesn't become tough.

Pour this mixture over the rhubarb and bake for 35-40 minutes. The clafoutis should be set but still somewhat soft in the center. It will have risen in shocking and uneven ways—don't worry, it will settle down as it cools.

Let the clafoutis rest for 5-10 minutes, and serve.


I can’t really write about rhubarb, or consume it, or smell it, or see it in a store even, without thinking about the rhubarb plants that line a creek in the woods of upstate New York behind the house where my mother grew up. Prehistoric looking specimens, they are thick and tall with large, arching, and poisonous, leaves. We never see those plants anymore, but apparently they have been growing prolifically for at least eighty years or more. My mother dug some up at one point and planted them in her own garden, where they now grow, referred to as “grandpa’s rhubarb.” These plants accompany, further off, in a separate field, “grandpa’s apple tree” and “grandpa’s lilacs.” From the stories of this grandpa, whom I never knew, I learned to identify edible honeysuckle, elderberries, and black caps; we learned to suck the tips of the honeysuckle in the woods until they released their bright pearls of liquid; we learned how to find the wild spring violets and orchids and the red cardinal flowers that sprung up, inexplicably, in the streams. We learned about a raccoon named Brudel that he called and fed by hand, as a sort of dog-like pet. We learned about elderberry wine, and beaver dams, and the virtues of the frothy top of a mug of beer, among many other bits of lore and wisdom. Food is ancient and its reach is immeasurable. It is also fleeting and transitory. We consume it and it is gone. But the stories persist and the memories, embedded as they are in the aromas of a childhood kitchen, remain. 

1 comment:

  1. Exquisite food, words, and memories.