Rhubarb Lemon Custard Shortcrust

October 2010

When I was growing up, my mom rescued what the neighbors thought was a weed and turned it into many magical desserts.  It wasn’t summer until my mom made a rhubarb crisp.  I can still taste the way the ice cream would melt all over the rhubarb when it was fresh from the oven on a hot summer night!

A few years ago, I thought the marvels of pollination had smiled upon my backyard when I noticed a red stalky plant growing against my fence.  I waited and waited for rhubarb baking inspiration, and by the time I cut into the stalk with a recipe in mind, I was rudely awakened by a seedy weed.

This farmers market season, I decided to play it safe and buy a fresh bunch of rhubarb from the farmers who had intentionally planted and harvested the bitter stalk with such sweet potential. 

I had a grand pie vision.  Admittedly, my custard did not come out picture perfect, but the taste was a golden medley of tart citrus, bittersweet rhubarb and a vanilla-almond burst from the soft crust.  Following mom’s lead, I highly recommend a dollop of rich, vanilla bean ice cream over a slice of this pie.

Vanilla Shortcrust Ingredients

1 ¼ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ cup pure cane sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) cold, local amish butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
2 large egg yolks from local, free-range eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons pure almond extract
1-3 teaspoons water

For the Shortcrust

Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse 5 times to blend.

Add the cold butter pieces and pulse 6-8 times, just until the butter is the size of large peas.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, almond extract and 1 teaspoon of water.  Add to the butter mixture and process just until the dough begins to form small clumps, 5-10 seconds.

Do not let the dough form into a ball.  Test the dough by squeezing a handful of clumps.  When you open your hand, they should hold together.  If they are crumbly and fall apart, add 1 teaspoon of water and pulse several times, then test again.  Repeat if necessary.

Turn the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead gently 2 or 3 times, just to finish bringing it together.  Shape it into a disc about 6 inches in diameter.  If the dough is soft and sticky, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it for 30 minutes before continuing.

Make sure the dough is cool but malleable.  Roll the dough between two floured sheets of parchment paper, adjusting if the paper crinkles or folds.  Roll from the center outward to create an even, round piece of dough.

Remove the top piece of parchment.  Transfer to a greased pie plate, using the bottom piece of parchment to help keep the dough in tact.

Remove the parchment and pat the dough into place.  Trim any excess or fold over the sides to create a thicker side crust.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes before baking.

Lemon Custard Ingredients

3 large local, free-range eggs
½ cup pure cane sugar
½  cup organic lemonade
2 large egg yolks
zest from 1 large, organic lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) local amish butter, cut into pieces
¼ cup local half and half
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
½ tablespoon almond extract

For the Lemon Custard Layer

Combine first 5 ingredients in heavy large saucepan and whisk to blend. Add butter. Whisk over medium heat until filling thickens, about 13 minutes (do not boil).

Mix in half and half, vanilla and almond extract. Whisk until filling is very thick and smooth and just begins to bubble, about 3 minutes.

Cool 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cover; chill until very cold, about 4 hours (can be made 3 days ahead).

Keep chilled.

Rhubarb Layer Ingredients

6 stalks rhubarb, chopped
Juice from one organic lemon
2 Tbs cornstarch

For the Rhubard Layer

Macerate the rhubarb (chop into ½ inch chunks and toss with pure cane sugar.  Leave for at least 30 minutes and then drain the liquid)

Mix the rhubarb chunks with the lemon juice and shred in a food processor.

Crumble any leftover dough from shortbread crust and mix into the rhubarb.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator or freezer.

Pour in the rhubarb mixture.

Top with lemon custard.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the custard is set.

Allow to cool completely before serving.

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