When I first planted my rhubarb, I placed a few pebbles under its roots in order to give it a well drained soil, I chose a shadowed spot, as to avoid too much Tuscan sun. At the beginning I used to water it every day, even twice a day, then Mum and Grandma adopted it, and now they take care of it every time they water the other pots and their beloved roses.
I love my rhubarb, it is not just a real and living plant, it is also a symbol, the tangible representation of my projects… and now it is finally the right moment to celebrate a few of them. I am twice as happy, because I could use my rhubarb in my birthday cake!
The first thing, the most striking one, it’s the new look of my blog: I’ve been thinking about it for months, it needed a fresh look, just as when in January I cut my hair to define a mile stone in my new life. To be true, I didn’t expect such an amazing result! Debora and Francesco from Studio KM Zero worked very hard on it, with patience and enthusiasm – this is what made me incredibly confident – and now I have not only a new look, but also new aprons for my cooking classes, new business cards, stickers to stick everywhere – as you can see from my gift-wrapped cake – and soon even a stamp for sealing wax, you never know…
My birthday cake. I searched for it on my cookbooks and on my favourite blogs, leafing and browsing through images to find something that could inspire me and could say loudly: take me, I am the cake for your birthday! I’ve always considered my birthday my special day, and so the cake has to be unique, too. Every year I tend to choose a cake that represents who I am, what I feel, so when I see the pictures again I can recall not only the flavour but also which were my thoughts, my feelings, my hopes and my fears in that special moment.
I’ve seen many a delightful and indulgent cake, but I always came back to this, Bakers Royale‘s summer berry custard bars, cheerful, fruity and gooey. That was my cake! I needed also something practical because this year I decided to take it slow, no party or all day spent in the kitchen, I wanted something different, just a gathering with friends on the Arno river. I went there, with a small basket and the cake gift-wrapped for them: many news, but my beloved old friends!
I got the idea from Bakers Royale and from the mouth-watering photos of a new to me blog, Adventures Cooking, which I discovered by chance on Foodgawker and loved instantly. Then I changed everything, using short pastry as crumbly crust, a good spread of thick custard mixed with ricotta cheese and a generous amount of tangy rhubarb and frozen berries, as I couldn’t find good fresh ones.
You can make the short pastry and the custard in advance, then assemble and bake the cake the next day. I loved the idea of using it as a birthday cake because once cold I could cut it into bars and gift-wrap each slice into small parcels for my friends, but it could suit perfectly an afternoon tea, or even give you a kicking start in the morning.
Make it if you love contrasts: a mellow and thick ricotta cheese custard layer hides the juicy and tangy berries and rhubarb.
Rhubarb and berry custard bars
- 125 g of raw cane sugar
- 250 g butter, at room temperature
- 30 g of egg yolks, about 2
- 300 g of flour
- 75 g of whole rice flour
- 1 pinch of salt
- Seeds form one vanilla bean
- Grated peel of 1 lemon
- 500 g of whole milk
- 150 g of caster sugar
- 60 g of egg yolks
- 45 g of corn starch
- 1 vanilla bean, you can use the one we used to scrape the seeds for the short pastry
... and then
- 250 g of ricotta cheese
- 200 g of rhubarb, sliced
- 300 g mixed berries, raspberries, blackberries, red currants, blueberries fresh or frozen
- Icing sugar to decorate
Make the short pastry
- Rub the butter and the sugar with your fingertips just until there are no large lumps of butter remaining.
- Mix in the beaten egg yolks and then rub in the two flours, previously sifted with salt, vanilla seeds and lemon zest.
- Try to work quickly so that it does not become greasy, bind the dough together, then press it slightly, wrap in cling film and let sit in the refrigerator for several hours or even overnight.
Make the custard
- Heat the milk with the vanilla bean and bring it to a gentle boil, then remove it from the heat.
- In a saucepan whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and the cornstarch, then pour in some milk in a thin stream and stir immediately, as to avoid to get scrambled eggs!
- Pour in all the milk and put the saucepan on low fire.
- Stir constantly with a whisk until you see the first bubbles on the surface and the custard thickens.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat immediately, scrape the custard into a bowl, cover it with cling film and set aside.
Now prepare the tart
- Preheat oven to 180°C.
- Remove the short pastry from the fridge, knead it to soften it and roll it on a floured surface with a rolling pin in a 5 mm thick sheet.
- Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper (approx. 20 cm x 30 cm), then line it with the short pastry.
- Sprinkle the pastry with rhubarb and berries, arranging them in an even layer.
- Sift the ricotta and mix it into the custard, then spread it onto the fruit, leaving a few berries popping out here and there.
- Bake the tart for about 1 hour, until the edges are golden and the centre slightly jiggles when pan is tapped.
- Let it cool down, cut it into bars and dust it lightly with icing sugar.
And now, the last thing I want to celebrate. I left it to the very end of the post, because I wasn’t sure of my words. Just exclamations came to my mind, or capital letters, and I know it’s not proper for a well mannered lady to scream in public.
If you follow me on Instagram you should have noticed that lately I was apparently craving for not at all summery food: tortelli del Mugello al ragù during the afternoon or bean and sausage when I am officially on a diet, or even a whole morning completely dedicated to bruschette (see my #bruschettaday).
Yes, there’s a reason, and no, I’m not waiting for a small baby me, I am working on my second cookbook, completely dedicated to the Tuscan food traditions, with something more that I will tell you soon. The book is due for the late autumn, I’m still working on it so I’ll be able to share with you the work in progress, follies included (I promise I will publish the picture of polenta and wild boar when I’ll cook it in August!). It will be published with Food Editore, I am so grateful they believed in me and gave me the chance to work on a dream.
OH! I was forgetting! the book will be translated into English as well!
Instead of using thousands and thousands of words, there’s nothing better than a video to tell you something more about the book. So many many thanks to Marco and Daniele, two friends that deserve more than a slice of cake!
It would need a whole post to describe how fun it was, filming under the sun in the first hot days of summer, walking in a wheat field just like Russel Crowe in the Gladiator movie… it was hot, believe me, but undoubtedly fun!