Curd is one of those dishes that should take on the flavours of the season, so let’s take advantage of the rhubarb crop. An ideal rhubarb curd possesses both the floral, somehow dewy flavour of the rhubarb and a charming pink hue that lives up to summer’s bright palette.
Unburdening the rhubarb stalks of their juice is a bit more involved than squeezing a lemon, but the extraction process offers us the opportunity to heighten the vegetable’s floral qualities by simmering it with orange peel and vanilla bean. An optional splash of elderflower liqueur at the end of the cooking process takes the whole thing right into grandma’s flower garden.
But before we are carried away in this idyll, I must note that my tests revealed that if it is a rosy pale pink we are after in this curd, the red pigments in the rhubarb — you should choose the reddest ones you can find — are not alone enough to overcome the yellow of the eggs. One could add food colouring, I suppose, but why toy with synthetic compounds when half a beet simmered with the stalks will do an even better job?
Once you’ve produced this blushing, vanilla-speckled dream, you can use it everywhere a sweet note is welcome. Desserts, ranging from layer cakes and mousse to cookies or ice cream, are a natural home. But my favourite meeting time is over breakfast or tea, where curd makes the most endearing conversation with toast, oatmeal, scones, muffins, or with orange popovers. Keep a jar of this stuff on hand, and you’ll never be caught by a guest (or by your own sweet tooth) unprepared, no matter the day or time.
Yield: 500 ml (2 cups)
Time: About 30 minutes
500 ml (2 cups) chopped fresh rhubarb
(about 6 stalks)
1 vanilla bean
3 strips orange peel,
roughly 7.5 cm by 2.5 cm (3 in by 1 in)
1/2 medium beet, peeled
185 ml (3/4 cup) sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
30 ml (2 tbsp) freshly squeezed
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) salt
90 ml (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
7.5 ml (11/2 tsp) elderflower liqueur,
such as St. Germain (optional)
1. Put the rhubarb in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover it by about 11/4 cm (1/2 in). Split the vanilla bean with a paring knife and scrape the seeds into a small bowl. Add the vanilla bean pod, the orange peel, the beet half and 60 ml (1/4 cup) of the sugar to the pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has mostly disintegrated, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the vanilla pod, orange peel and beet, and press pulp against a metal strainer placed over a large measuring cup to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
2. Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer over medium heat. Put the remaining 125 ml (1/2 cup) sugar, the egg yolks, the eggs, the lemon juice, the salt and the reserved vanilla seeds in a medium steel or glass bowl that will fit over the pot, and whisk to combine. Gradually whisk in 310 ml (11/4 cups) of the rhubarb juice (reserve any extra for cocktails or another use), then set the bowl over the simmering water. Cook, beating constantly with a whisk, until the mixture has thickened enough to loosely coat the back of a wooden spoon, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Remove the bowl from the pot and whisk in butter, 15 ml (1 tbsp) at a time, waiting until each pat has melted before adding the next. Whisk in elderflower liqueur. If the curd seems lumpy, strain it through a mesh sieve. Allow to cool and then refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours, before serving. Store leftover curd in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.