Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rhubarb Meringue Tarts


Last time, when we were talking biscuits,  I showed our beautiful Mother's Day tea table all laden up with cake stands, dainty sandwiches, spring flowers and vintage tea sets. If I say so myself, it looked amazing - like Cath Kidston exploded onto our table in a shower of twee florals and clotted cream. Nor was the pleasure all aesthetic - there was a ridiculous amount of greedy eating going on for a made up meal in the middle of the afternoon. In the sweet treat section alone, along with the biscuits (and some amazing cakes baked by my sister), I chose to try something I've been wanting to make for ages. Specifically, a mini version of rhubarb meringue pie from Nigella's Feast. Doesn't that sound lovely? What could be more perfect for a Spring time tea?

And yet....well, to be completely honest, they were an awful lot of faff for an underwhelming end result. After making the pastry, and resting the pastry, and blind baking the pastry, and cooling the pastry, and cooking the rhubarb, and filling the cases, and making the eggy sugary goo, and covering the rhubarb in the cases, and baking it all again, and making a meringue, and baking it all for a final time, oh my goodness how many times have I pulled this tray in and out of the oven...they were fine. Just fine.

The pastry was crisp, the filling was sweet, the meringue was delicate. But if I'm going through all that palaver (and god knows I cut out as much palaver as I could), I want my socks to be blown off by the result. My socks stayed on. Three days later, my socks were still on, and there were still some tarts left uneaten. 

So my final judgement would be - don't bother. You know what would have been nicer? Using the rhubarb with whipped cream to sandwich together little meringues (maybe even little orange-flavoured meringues). Or to fill little cakes, or a huge victoria sponge, with whipped cream and maybe a few raspberries. 

But all this hoo-ha? Pff, not worth it. They won't be taking up valuable space on my tea table again. Not when there are coconut-brownie bars, cucumber sandwiches, cornbread cheese and chilli jelly sandwiches (made with this cornbread), smoked salmon sandwiches, all sorts of biscuits and freshly made scones with clotted cream and jam. Not to mention thousands of cake recipes bookmarked in my "need to try" folder for the next time we want a refined, delicate excuse to stuff our faces in the middle of the afternoon.

Rhubarb Meringue Pies
From Nigella's How to Eat

- 140g plain flour
- 70g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- juice of half an orange

- 800g rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
- juice of half an orange
- 2 egg yolks
- 150g caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons of plain flour
- 30g melted butter

- 2 egg whites
- 120g caster sugar
- quarter teaspoonful of cream of tartar 

Start off with the pastry. Blitz the cold butter and flour together in a food processor until it looks like breadcrumbs, then gradually pour the orange juice down the funnel until it comes together in a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chuck in the fridge for at least 20 mins.

Trim the ends off the rhubarb and cut the stems into 1cm slices, then cook in a big saucepan with the orange juice for about 5-10 minutes or until cooked and pulpy. Set in a sieve over a bowl, collecting the beautiful coral juice.

Preheat the oven to 200C and get out whatever you're going to bake the pie in - a 21cm quiche tin, or mini muffin tin like mine. Get out pastry, roll to about half a centimetre thick and line the tin (s). Stab the bottoms with a fork, and put in baking beans if your tin is big enough (mine wasn't). Bake blind for about 15-20 minutes or until cooked and golden. Leave it in the tin but let it cool. If the pastry has all puffed up (which it will have done if you couldn't use baking beans), squish it back down with a teaspoon to make room for the fillings.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a big bowl for the meringue and the yolks in a smaller one. In another bowl (yep, you'll need to put the dishwasher on soon), melt 30g butter in the microwave, then add the flour and 150g caster sugar. Mix well, then add the egg yolks and enough of the juice from the rhubarb to make a smooth, runny paste. 

By now, the pastry should have cooled down (but make sure the oven is still on). Add a dollop of rhubarb to each pastry case, then cover each dollop with the sugary, eggy, buttery goo. Bake in the oven until set, about 20-30 minutes.

While they're cooking, beat the egg whites well (with an electric whisk unless you're a superhero), until they form soft peaks. Add half of the sugar, beat until glossy, then gradually add the rest of the sugar and the cream of tartar. Swirl the meringue over the rhubarby pastry cases, trying to cover every single bit of the base, then bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.   

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