A Softy for Tarts: Rhubarb-Streusel Tart

Recently our friends Tim and Meghan invited us over to dinner, and I was too shy to proactively offer to bring a dessert. Tim is a former professional chef who has worked at outstanding restaurants, including Ristorante Tosca and Citronelle. I figured that Tim had his own vision for executing the dinner and I didn't want to interfere. So I was actually quite flattered when Tim passed on a request to my husband that I bring a dessert. I asked Tim what his and his wife's baked goods preference was, and he gave me only two suggestions: preferably not chocolate-based, and preferably not cream-based. I thought that something in the fruit tart category would be suitable, and since rhubarb was in season, I decided to try François Payard's "Rhubarb-Streusel Tart."

You make the crust for this tart in the food processor from powdered sugar, flour, salt, softened butter, and an egg. You form the dough into a disk, chill it, roll it out, place it in a tart pan, chill it again, and then partially blind bake the crust. You make the filling for the tart by simmering a mixture of rhubarb, sugar, butter, and orange juice for 5 minutes, cooling the mixture, and then draining it. The recipe includes a warning not to overcook the rhubarb, or it will be mushy. I only boiled the rhubarb for about 2 minutes, but unfortunately that short time was enough to turn the rhubarb mushy.

At the time that I discovered I had mushy rhubarb -- only about 3 hours before we were due at dinner -- I didn't really have many options. I knew that our Whole Foods didn't have any more rhubarb, because the two pounds of rhubarb I had purchased earlier in the day was the store's entire supply. Also, as rhubarb is often combined with strawberry, I had already made a batch of roasted strawberry and buttermilk ice cream earlier in the day to go along with the tart. I didn't want to have to come up with an entirely new dessert to pair with the ice cream -- not to mention the difficulty of coming up with any dessert that I could execute in such a short time regardless of whether strawberry ice cream would be an appropriate complement. So, I forged ahead with the mushy rhubarb and crossed my fingers.

To assemble the tart, you sprinkle a bit of flour and sugar on the partially-baked tart crust, spoon on the rhubarb filling, and then add a streusel topping made of softened butter, sugar, almond flour, and all-purpose flour.

I was quite worried that the mushy rhubarb filling would cause the tart crust to become soggy. The tart looked fine coming out of the oven, but I had to take it to dinner while it was still warm, so I wasn't able to unmold it and examine the bottom crust beforehand.

At this point, I must digress briefly to say that the dinner Tim cooked us was unquestionably the finest meal I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying at anyone's home. Each of the four courses (pea soup with scallops, soft shell crab, duck, and beef) was exquisite. With each impeccably-seasoned bite of dinner, my anxiety over dessert was growing; I already knew the tart was imperfect, and after such a technically flawless meal, I also knew that its faults would only be more obvious.

When we finally got to dessert and Tim cut and served the tart, I could see right away that the crust was in fact soggy. The slices were pathetically limp. That said, the tart tasted fine. The rhubarb filling definitely would have been better if it had more texture instead of being like a jam, but the rhubarb flavor came through clearly. The saving grace of this tart was the streusel topping, which was both delicious and crunchy. It almost (but only almost) made up for the soft crust. The smooth and silky strawberry ice cream was very good and also helped the tart go down a little easier. I would love to make this tart again and see how it comes out when the rhubarb is properly cooked.

Given the problem with the mushy rhubarb and soggy crust, I would have considered this tart disappointing in any circumstance. But following such an extraordinary dinner, I felt just awful. Fortunately, Tim and Meghan are not only exceptionally kind and generous hosts, but very gracious ones as well. And the rest of the meal was so incredible that a dessert course was entirely gratuitous anyway.

I truly believe that cooking is a labor of love, and I will always be grateful to Tim and Meghan for sharing this unforgettable evening with us.



Louise said…
What a disappointment for you. Your photo looks good, but needs more rhubarb. :-) Rhubarb Crumb Tarts are one of my favorite summer desserts, probably equal to sour cherry crumb tarts. I cobble together a couple different recipes, but the rhubarb doesn't get stewed at all and the tart bakes for 45-55 minutes. I won't be using François Payard's recipe.
Unknown said…
I had no problem with the tart and the leftovers you left us! But I must say, your Rhubarb Redemption was a terrific way to up the ante. As always, a pleasure to see you guys and taste your exquisite creations! Thx for a great evening!