rhubarb compotes (on ice cream) or strawberry-rhubarb crisp (again, with ice cream), but the first rhubarb dessert I tried this year was a little different: Rhubarb Custard Bars.
This pan-ful of creamy treats has the elements of three great desserts all in one place. It has a crust like a shortbread cookie, a custard filling studded with sliced rhubarb and a topping like a spreadable cheesecake. Each of those elements is prepared separately and makes this dessert a bit of a long-term commitment, but none of the steps is excessively complicated and most of the delayed gratification is due to the need to wait for cooling and/or chilling.
The crust is not too sweet and forms a nice, firm foundation that didn’t fall apart for me when I cut the dessert into squares for serving. The richness of the custard is nicely cut by the tart fruitiness of the rhubarb. It is baked right on the crust and doesn’t require any of the fussy steps with water baths or temperature-reading that can often accompany a custard recipe. It’s much more casual, but still creamy and satisfying. The topping is simply a blended concoction of cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and whipping cream. I’m going to have a hard time not making this on its own and calling it something like Cheesecake You Can Eat with a Spoon, C’mon You Know You Wanna.
All together, these layered elements form a delicious dessert that is even greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a bit rich (you can cut it into small pieces if you like), but not overly sweet, thanks in part to the inclusion of rhubarb and not an excessive amount of sugar. Of course, there should be nothing keeping you from eating any leftovers for breakfast, especially since the crust does start to become soggy (but still pretty good) after about a day. I made a smaller recipe than the one on which I based it from an old clipping from Cooking Light magazine. Since I also made it significantly less “light,” it’s probably a good thing that I scaled it down to sixty-four square inches of temptation.
If rhubarb is already so six weeks ago where you live, I think the custard filling could also be made with other fruits, such as berries or peaches. I’d really like to try it with blueberries and a bit of lemon zest, but until then, I’m going to be stuck eating local rhubarb as my sole seasonal fruit. Just to let you in on a secret: it’s really not a sacrifice.
Rhubarb Custard Bars
Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine
The crust of this dessert does begin to get soggy after about a day.
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup milk (I used 2%)
2 ½ cups rhubarb, sliced into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup sugar
3 ounces cream cheese (I used reduced fat), softened
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. To make the crust, place the ¾ cup all-purpose flour, ½ cup sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse until all of the butter is incorporated and the dough looks like coarse meal.
2. Firmly press the crust mixture into the bottom of a 8-inch square baking dish. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack.
3. To prepare the rhubarb custard filling, combine the 3 tablespoons flour and ¾ cup sugar in a medium-size bowl. Add the milk and eggs and whisk together until very smooth. Stir in the rhubarb.
4. Pour the custard mixture over the baked crust. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes or until the custard is only slightly wobbly when shaken. You do not want it to appear runny. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. (You can refrigerate to speed up the cooling process.)
5. To prepare the topping, combine the ¼ cup sugar and cream cheese in a medium-size bowl. Beat together with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and whipping cream. Beat with the mixer, beginning on low to medium speed and increasing the speed as the ingredients become well combined for a minute or so, until the mixture is thick and creamy.
6. Spread the topping mixture evenly on top of the cooled custard. Chill for about 1 hour. Keep any leftovers refrigerated. For best texture, serve within 1 day.
Makes about 9-12 servings.
Other recipes like this one: Rhubarb Yogurt Cake, Cherry Clafouti, Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust