Rhubarb is synonymous with English desserts.  Growing up, I recall my mother creating a number of desserts that incorporated rhubarb.  Not to the extent that I eventually had to throw a hand to cover my eyes, and gesture any oncoming fruit ladened dish away, but to know that this humble fruit was versatile, practical and a hint towards winter.

Given its tart flavour, rhubarb adapts well when cooked with sweet fruits such as apples and strawberries.  It also loves to be spiked with a little hint of spice, be it cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.  Stewed, in a pie or made into a delicious jam, the strength of the rhubarb will ensure it remains popular for quite some time.

As soon as I decided on ‘British Desserts’ month, the idea of including rhubarb and a crumble was fait accompli, in a way.  But knowing the rhubarb crumble was a dish many had already seen, how could I give it a little Mélanger twist?  Just a little ….

I originally decided to sweetened my rhubarb with orange, and add some uncrystallised ginger for a little zing.  But after walking by my local fruit store recently, and catching the subtle aroma of the new season strawberries, I knew the orange had to be parked.  (Just for a while.)  So rhubarb, strawberry and ginger was decided!

Given the weather has cooled here slightly, I was also itching to make some pastry.  In particular, a zesty cream cheese pastry that complements fruit fillings perfectly.  But I admittedly did hesitate.  The crumble apparently was created as a way to compensate for war time rationing in Britain.  A way to replace the impossible quantities of flour, butter and sugar required to make a traditional sweet pastry shell, but still provide some melt in your mouth, buttery texture.  The traditional crumble topping, using just a fraction of the very same ingredients (note – no oats included), was the clever solution.

Although this crumble tart, with its rich pastry casing, really defies the idea of the humble crumble, I create this dish in celebration how blessed I am to not face the same rationing that sparked its origins.

Enjoy.  Cheers!

{ Rhubarb, strawberry & ginger crumble tarts } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

Plan ahead and almost on a whim, you can produce this tart, bubbling with hot, delicious fruit, in a snap.  The pastry can be made ahead, and the good news is it does not need to be blind baked.

Baking uncooked rhubarb allows some shape to be retained through the cooking process, but still provides a soft texture.  Switch the strawberries for apples if you choose.  And feel free to omit the ginger.

It also would not be a British dessert without a serving of homemade custard on the side.  Recipe follows.

* Ingredients *
Pastry
1 ½ cups of plain flour
½ cup caster sugar
125g / 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter, cut into small squares
240g / 8 oz cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon chilled ice water
Filling
600g / 20oz rhubarb, cut into small chunks
300g / 10oz strawberries, quartered
45g / 1 ½ oz uncrystallised ginger
2 tablespoons cornflour / cornstarch
¼ cup sugar
Crumble
1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
125g / 1 stick of cold, unsalted butter cut into smalls squares

* Directions *
For the pastry, combine the flour and sugar into a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to combine.  Next add the butter and pulse gently until the mixture starts to resemble very coarse breadcrumbs.  Immediately add the cream cheese and blend until the pastry starts to come away from the sides.  Add the chilled ice water as needed to bring the pastry together.  On a floured board, knead the pastry gently into a ball.  Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  For the filling combine the rhubarb, strawberries and ginger into a bowl.  Add in the cornflour and sugar and combine well.  Set aside.  For the crumble, mix the flour and sugar into a bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, or the tips of your fingers, blend in the butter so you achieve a very rough texture.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.  To prepare the tarts, divide the pastry into six equal portions.  Roll out each piece separately to measure larger than the size of your tart tins.  Cut a neat circle and line the tin with the pastry.  When all six are completed, pile in the fruit mixture remembering that as the fruit cooks, it will reduce in volume – so be generous in your portions.  Finally, liberally spread over the crumble mixture to fully coat each tart.  Pop the tarts onto a baking tray and bake in the centre of the oven for 45-50 minutes.

Makes 6 mini tarts

{ Vanilla Custard } Original recipe by Julia @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
¾ cup milk
¾ cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

* Directions *
Prepare a bowl filled with ice and top the ice with another clean bowl.  Put to the side together with a fine sieve.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  Set aside.  Gently heat the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan until small bubbles appear around the edges.  Remove from the heat, and add ½ cup of the mixture to the eggs whisking together immediately.  When blended, add the egg mixture back to the milk over a low to medium heat.  Keep whisking as the mixture starts to thicken.  Be careful not to overheat the mixture or the eggs will curdle.  For accuracy, measure the temperature and remove from the heat when you reach 80C /176F.  Without delay, pour the hot custard through the sieve into the prepare bowl.  The ice will help cool down the custard and ensure it does not overheat.  Allow to cool, and then refrigerate.

Makes 1 ½ cups