Friday, May 24, 2013

French Rhubarb Tarts

Last Year's Post: Scandinavian Muesli

We just returned from two weeks in France, which was very inspirational from a food standpoint.  Although all the food was delicious, the breads, cheeses and pastries were absolutely the best.  Looking at all the pastries in the shops was fun even without eating them because they're all so beautiful. I was making a list of new blog ideas throughout the trip, excited to try them all out. I thought I would start by celebrating France and springtime together with rhubarb tarts from La Bastide Odeon Restaurant in Paris.

What I like about this recipe is how beautiful the tarts are, as well as their intense rhubarb flavor. I love rhubarb, but I've been disappointed with other rhubarb tart and pie recipes in the past because they seemed somewhat bland. These tarts have the double whammy of a pile of tender rhubarb pieces as well as intense rhubarb syrup.  The rhubarb is placed on top of a flaky puff pastry circle with a thin layer of sweetened ricotta cheese, so you have the contrasts of sweet-tart-flaky-creamy all in a dessert that tastes surprisingly light.

The tarts aren't difficult to make (they only have six ingredients) but they look so darn impressive. I read a review of the recipe where someone stated they used red food coloring to make the rhubarb and sauce the "right color". Say what?  Just make sure you buy nice red rhubarb in the first place.  No food coloring here!

You start by cooking the rhubarb the day prior to serving, which I always like because it's one more thing out of the way in advance.  The rest of the cooking can be done an hour in advance so you can do that before your guests arrive.  Then all you need to do is assembly work when ready to serve. A little sprig of mint and a dusting of confectioner's sugar is really all you need as a garnish, although La Bastide Odean serves the tart with almond ice cream.  To me that seems like gilding the lily, but to each his own.

The rhubarb actually goes through a double cooking process. First you simmer the rhubarb and some brown sugar together until the rhubarb pieces are tender, then you drain the rhubarb pieces over a bowl (to catch the syrup) and refrigerate overnight.

The next day you cut and bake the puff pastry circles, broil the rhubarb pieces with a little sugar, and reduce the syrup. I adapted the recipe slightly by using an easier technique for baking the puff pastry and by shrinking the size of the tarts from 6" to 5" because it seemed about right to me.  I rummaged around in drawers and cabinets, trying out various saucers and bowls until I found the right size bowl to use as a guide for cutting the puff pastry circles.

If you put a second baking sheet on top of the puff pastry when it bakes, it comes out nice and flat and golden. (I forgot to take a picture of them after they get baked a second time with the ricotta on top, sorry.)

The rhubarb gets broiled while the sauce reduces to a deep red and thick wonderfulness.

All this gets done in advance so it has time to cool.  When you're ready to serve, just pile the rhubarb on the tarts and drizzle with syrup.

Add your garnish (go very light on the confectioners sugar so you don't cover up that beautiful red rhubarb color) and serve to oohs and aahs.

printable recipe

French Rhubarb Tarts
Serves 4

1 lb rhubarb, sliced ½” thick (the reddest you can find)
1 ¼ cups plus 2 tablespoons packed golden brown sugar
1 sheet (half of a 17.3 ounce package) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
Mint sprigs and additional powdered sugar for garnish, optional

Make Ahead:  combine rhubarb and 1 ¼ cups brown sugar in a large saucepan.  Cook over low heat until syrup forms and rhubarb is tender but not falling apart, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.  Pour rhubarb mixture into a sieve set over a bowl.  Cover sieve and bowl and chill rhubarb and juices overnight.

Day of:  Preheat oven to 400d.  Roll out the puff pastry sheet on floured surface to a 12 inch square.  Using a 5” diameter plate or bowl as a guide, cut four pastry rounds.  Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet and cover with parchment paper and a second baking sheet.  Bake 15 minutes and remove, maintaining oven temperature.

Remove the top baking sheet and parchment paper from the pastry rounds.  Blend ricotta and powdered sugar in a bowl.  Brush each crust with egg glaze.  Leaving a ½” plain border, spread ¼ of the mixture on each crust.  Bake tartlets again until topping is set, about 10 minutes.  Remove and let cool.

Preheat broiler.  Pour rhubarb syrup into a small saucepan and boil about 8 minutes, until slightly thickened; cool (syrup will thicken further as it cools).  Spread the rhubarb pieces ¾” thick on a rimmed baking sheet covered with foil.  Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar and broil for about 4 minutes, until the top is browned in spots.  Cool.

Pastry, syrup and rhubarb may be made up to one hour in advance.  Let stand at room temperature. 

When ready to serve, spoon rhubarb over tartlets and drizzle with syrup.  Garnish with mint sprigs and a light dusting of powdered sugar if desired.  Serve immediately.

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