Today’s Rhubarb Cream Tart with Strawberry Meringue takes the stars of the classic pie filling combo and has a little fun with them. There are few pie flavors that are as beloved as strawberry rhubarb, so I know I’m playing with fire here. But how can you say no to a beauty like this? This is one of those effortlessly beautiful desserts. No fussy piping or decoration is required. The second you pop that strawberry meringue on top, you’ve got a showstopper on your hands. The final floral flourish of lilac blossoms is nice but completely optional. You’ll have a fairyland-worthy dessert with or without the blooms. So let’s get started.
I always ask people what their favorite pie is. I don’t ask the question as some sort of cutesy ice breaker. Or some flawed attempt to understand their inner workings via pastry choice. I ask because when you know someone’s favorite pie flavor, you know how to take care of them. Unless, of course, they’re more of a cake or cookie person. But honestly, I mostly meet pie people. I don’t know if people are just generally more revved up by pie. Or if pie people are naturally drawn to me. But that’s beside the point. The point, and yes there is one, is I’ve asked a lot of people this question and the most frequent answer I’ve received is strawberry rhubarb. But shout out to key lime, lemon meringue, and coconut cream – you almost clinched it.
This doesn’t surprise me. Strawberry rhubarb is also one of my favorite pie flavors. I’m actually a little more partial to coconut cream but I try not to spread that around – it’s damaging to my pro-rhubarb brand. But strawberry rhubarb definitely lives in my top five, it may even be in my top three. Today’s Rhubarb Cream Tart with Strawberry Meringue plays with this classic and beloved flavor combo. It features a pâte sucrée crust, a vanilla custard, stewed rhubarb, and fluffy pink strawberry meringue. I added a few lilacs as a garnish because ’tis the season in my neck of the woods. But you could swap them out for candied violets or some lavender.
Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up. The crust is pâte sucrée. A type of sweet pastry that tastes quite a bit like a sugar cookie. It differs from flaky American pastry in that it’s not flaky at all. It melts in your mouth, a bit like a shortbread. And unlike flakey pastry, pâte sucrée starts with softened butter. You’re essentially making cookie dough, rolling it out, and blind baking it in a tart pan. There are few chilling interludes that come with this style of crust. And the first chilling period is the most vital. Rolling pâte sucrée out without chilling it is an exercise in frustration, so slow your roll and pop the pastry in the fridge.
Now, let’s talk blind baking. Blind baking pâte sucrée is essentially the same as blind baking flaky pastry. You dock the pastry, line it with parchment paper, and add some kind of weight. You can buy actual pie weights designed for the job or you can use dried beans, lentils, or legumes. I used green lentils this time but I have had success with white beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans in the past. From there you bake the crust for 15 minutes, then remove the weights. Then you bake it for another 15 minutes. Because the filling for this Rhubarb Cream Tart doesn’t need to see the inside of the oven, we want to ensure the pastry is fully cooked. There won’t be another chance.
Once the pastry is cooked, you can set it aside and move on to the pastry cream and stewed rhubarb. I suggest tackling the rhubarb first because you want it to cool slightly before adding it to the shell. This is my grandmother’s recipe for stewed rhubarb, which is really nothing more than cooking rhubarb down with sugar. I added a little cornstarch to thicken it so it wouldn’t sog out the tart. But if you omit the cornstarch and put this stuff warm on pancakes, I promise you won’t regret it. But that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re going to cook that rhubarb down until it literally falls apart, and then we’re going to thicken it with a cornstarch slurry and set it aside to cool.
Now, let’s talk pastry cream. This is a half recipe of my usual pastry cream. The recipe I ordinarily use calls for five egg yolks and can fill a tart shell to the brim. I want to leave room for my stewed rhubarb, so I cut everything in half with the exception of the yolks. I opted for a 3-yolk cream, which was nice and thick. If you want a consistency that is more akin to pudding, leave it at two yolks.
If you’ve made pastry cream once, you’re pretty much an expert. All you have to do is heat cream and sugar, whisk the yolks and cornstarch together in a bowl, temper the yolk mixture with the cream, and add everything together. After a brief spell on the stove, a nice thick custard forms. Take it off of the heat, stir in some butter, and pour it into your waiting tart shell. It really is that simple. Now, as with anything with eggs and heat, you do run the risk of creating sweet scrambled eggs if you move too aggressively. Keep your temperature low and your whisk primed and you will be fine. Once the custard is in the shell, pour the stewed rhubarb on top and place the whole thing in the fridge to set.
Now it’s time to get tickled pink. The pink and flavor in the strawberry meringue come courtesy of freeze-dried strawberries. Essentially you blitz them until they turn into a fine powder. Word to the wise, breathe very carefully around the stuff. From there add them to sugar and water and put them over high heat. You’re going to heat them until they reach 230-240°F. I found that the strawberry does make the mixture a little more prone to burning than the traditional recipe, so feel free to pull it a little prematurely. I did and my meringue still turned out great.
While your sugar mixture is heating, whisk room temperature egg whites with some cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Then, with the mixer running, stream in the hot sugar mixture. Be careful, that hot sugar will do damage if you get any on you. Once stiff peaks form, your meringue is done. Plop it on top of your set tart and make a series of pleasing swoops. From here you can toast your meringue with a kitchen torch for that toasted marshmallow effect. But I left mine because the color was too pretty, so I didn’t want to mess with it.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Rhubarb Cream Tart with Strawberry Meringue. It may taste oddly familiar but this tart looks like a fairy fever dream. This dessert is just a whole lot of fun, so hope you give it a try.
Rhubarb Cream Tart with Strawberry Meringue
- 1 9" tart pan
- 1 Stand or hand mixer
- pie weights, dried beans, or dried lentils
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp powdered sugar sifted
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened but still chilled
- 1 egg
- 454g (1lb) fresh rhubarb coarsely chopped
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp water divided
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
Vanilla Pastry Cream
- 1¼ cup half and half
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 3 large egg yolks **
- 1½ tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into cubes
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 22g (1oz) freeze-dried strawberries blitz into a powder
- 4 egg whites room temperature
- ½ tsp cream of tartar
- lilac blossoms or candied violets optional
For the Pâte Sucrée
- In a large bowl, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Set it aside.1½ cups all-purpose flour, ¼ cup + 2 tbsp powdered sugar, ½ tsp salt
- Cut the butter into cubes and add them to the flour mixture. Using the rubbing method or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.½ cup unsalted butter
- Add the egg, and using a rubber spatula, mix the egg into the flour and butter mixture until a dough starts to form. Turn the dough out onto a counter and briefly knead it until it forms a smooth ball.1 egg
- Press the dough into a disc and wrap it with parchment paper. Transfer it to the fridge. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
- Place the dough on a well-floured surface and sprinkle with flour. Roll the dough out to a ⅛" thickness. Transfer it to a 9" tart pan and press it into the pan to conform to the shape. Trim the edges and prick the dough all over with a fork. Return the tart to the fridge and chill for another 30 minutes. While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Line the pastry with parchment paper and fill with pie weight or dried beans or lentils. Place the tart shell in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment paper and weights and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden. Take the shell out of the oven and set it aside to cool.
For the Stewed Rhubarb
- Place the rhubarb, sugar, salt, and a 1/4 cup of the water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce it to a simmer. Simmer until the rhubarb falls apart.454g (1lb) fresh rhubarb, ½ cup granulated sugar, ¼ cup + 2 tbsp water, ¼ tsp salt
- When the rhubarb is just about done, take a small bowl and whisk to combine the remaining water and the cornstarch. Stir the mixture into the simmering rhubarb and continue to stir until the mixture becomes thick and glossy. Take it off of the heat and let it cool. ***1 tbsp cornstarch, ¼ cup + 2 tbsp water
For the Pastry Cream
- Pour the half and half, sugar, and salt into a small saucepan and place over medium-low heat. Heat the cream until steam begins to gather on the surface and it's on the verge of boiling.1¼ cup half and half, ¼ cup granulated sugar, ¼ tsp salt
- While the cream is heating up, whisk to combine the egg yolks and cornstarch. Once the cream is hot, add a few ladlesful of the cream mixture to the yolk mixture while whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Pour the yolk mixture into the saucepan and cook over low heat until the cream thickens and becomes glossy.3 large egg yolks **, 1½ tbsp cornstarch
- Take the pastry cream off of the heat and add the butter. Stir until the butter melts. Pour the cream into the tart shell and add the stewed rhubarb on top. Cover and let chill for 3 hours or until set.2 tbsp cold unsalted butter
For the Strawberry Meringue
- Place the water, sugar, and strawberry powder in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling don't stir it anymore. Heat the mixture until it registers a temperature of 230-240°F on a candy thermometer.1 cup granulated sugar, ½ cup water, 22g (1oz) freeze-dried strawberries
- While the sugar mixture is heating up, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar on high using a hand mixer or a stand mixer until soft peaks form.4 egg whites, ½ tsp cream of tartar
- With the mixer running, stream the hot sugar mixture into the egg whites. Continue to whisk until stiff peaks form.
- Place the Strawberry Meringue on top of the set Rhubarb Custard Tart. Toast the meringue with a kitchen torch or leave to as is. Garnish with lilac blossoms or candied violets, if desired.lilac blossoms or candied violets