I love dessert. I only eat it on days that end in "y" so I have things under control. A cookie, a small piece of cake, a brownie; it's a rare day when I don't satisfy my inherited sweet tooth.
Honestly, I'm a chocolate lover. It's hard to resist a slab of warm chocolate cake or a dense, chewy brownie. But at this time of year, when rhubarb hits the market, chocolate just seems so, well dark. With the first chirping robin, the first mowed lawn, and the first plate of asparagus, dessert must scream Spring.
If you are one that reads the last page of a book first and have skipped ahead to the recipe below, I'm sure you're thinking, what? A three-part dessert? Never! Put the oxygen mask over your nose and mouth, take a deep breath and stay with me here.
It makes sense to me that if you are going to take the time to bake, make something that has multiple applications and yields more than just one. Even more helpful is if all the components can be made separately. This tart comes together like a really good story, a beginning, middle and end.
Let's start off at the bottom. The crust is shortbread, blind baked (baked off as an empty shell before adding the filling), but no need for pie weights or dried beans to keep it in place, fork tine pokes will do the trick. A cup of nut flour gives it some texture, vanilla for flavor and eggs for glue. Depending on the size of your finished tart, the yield is about three crusts, one for now, two for freezing to use later. Maybe use one as mock strawberry shortcake; baked crust, fruit filling, and whipped cream topping. Use the other as a shortbread cookie; roll the chilled dough into a log, slice and bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes depending on size, or dust with flour, roll out and shape with cookie cutters and follow the same baking instructions. Slightly brown with a little give should indicate they are ready to enjoy.
The curd is titled "citrus" because there are no rules; lemon, orange, lime, alone or combined; just make sure it's fresh squeezed. Squeeze an extra cup and set it aside for the jam. You'll thank me later. Curd is a harsh sounding name for a creamy mixture made from juice, sugar, butter and egg yolks. Left alone with a bowl of curd and a spoon, I could be very happy; a cardiologist would not be. I recommend a small ramekin and a demitasse spoon if you choose this route. The recipe yields enough for one tart plus a little extra. Written by weight allows for easier adaptations for doubling and tripling but I've included close measures in cups if preferred. Curd is great with berries, spread on a scone in the morning with a dollop of clotted cream or a smear of butter, and, as mentioned, eaten just with a spoon.
This jam is easy, requires no pectin, can be preserved for a winter treat, and yields much more than you will need. Smashing the ginger and tossing it in the pan lends the flavor of ginger without chopping or grating. The recipe reads to add a cup of water but here's where that reserved cup of juice comes in handy. Water tastes like, um, water so substitute one cup of juice for a burst of sunshine! Maple syrup, cinnamon, cloves, kirsch, mint and nutmeg are all friends with rhubarb. Don't be afraid to experiment with a dash, a dribble or a drop as the jam takes shape. And when it comes to consistency, this jam will never be super firm, so it makes a great sauce, too. Serve as an accompaniment with duck, pork or trout. For fun, fold some into wild rice.
The crust can be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for a month, the curd can be made a few days ahead, and the jam, at least a week or more if preserving. With all the parts pre-made, the tart comes together in less than thirty minutes. Breathing better?
• Kelly Sears is the executive chef and instructor at Marcel's Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn. She caught the cooking bug early, first learning to bake with an Easy Bake Oven. Sears kept on learning and graduated from the College of DuPage Culinary program. She hasn't stopped learning or teaching since. Contact her by sending email addressed to email@example.com.