Rhubarb and custard is yet another quintessentially British combination that just reminds everyone of their childhood. It seems, however, to be another marmite-esque divider. It might be the general association of rhubarb with school dinner rhubarb crumble, which I won't lie, I don't think was that bad... but bad school dinner associations generally, yeah, I totally get that.
In an attempt to make everyone love rhubarb a little bit more, and to improve your chances of winning the next pub quiz you participate in, here is some rhubarb history. The perky pink fruit may be quintessentially British, but it's actually yet another ingredient that came over here from Asia. I always used to wonder about the difference between forced rhubarb and normal rhubarb, and it turns out that apparently the forced variety came about when Asian supplies of the stuff began to run dry. In desperate need of meeting demand, farmers in the UK found that they could replicate the ideal environment by growing it in a dark, heated room (am I the only one now wondering if I can grow rhubarb in my yoga classes...?)
Forced rhubarb is generally thinner and sweeter, and is apparently picked by candelight around February time (roses are so last year...). Unforced rhubarb is, as you might have guessed, grown naturally outside, and it tends to be thicker and sharper in flavour. People who don't like rhubarb are therefore probably more likely to tolerate the forced variety, but let's be honest, either way it looks like pink celery, so it's basically salad and everyone should eat more of it.
That's my philosophy, at least.
Here's a rhubarb, almond & custard cake recipe to win you over if not. It worked for my brother, so there is hope! Also, I am definitely going to make a habit of baking layers of custard into my cakes. You should too.
For the sponge
250g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the custard
6 egg yolks
50g golden caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or seeds of 1 vanilla pod)
1 tsp ground cardamom
For the topping
4-5 sticks of rhubarb, chopped into lengths of about 8cm
1 tbsp golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom
50g flaked almonds
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line and grease a 23cm round cake tin.
2. Start by making the custard. Place the milk, vanilla and cardamom into a medium saucepan and warm over a gentle heat - make sure the milk doesn't boil!
3. In a separate medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour to make a paste. Once the milk is just steaming, pour into the eggs and sugar in a steady stream, whisking constantly.
4. Place the whole mixture back onto the heat, and gently whisk until it begins to thicken. Take off the heat and cover with clingfilm (make sure the clingfilm touches the surface of the custard so a skin doesn't form), and set aside to cool.
5. Next, prepare the rhubarb. In a small bowl, toss the cut rhubarb together with the cardamom and sugar, and set aside.
6. Now make the sponge. In a freestanding electric mixer or using an electric whisk, cream together the butter and sugar. When light and fluffy, add in the eggs one at a time, making sure the mixture is well combined after each addition.
8. In a separate bowl, combine the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. Gently fold this into the wet mixture with a spatula.
9. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin, making sure it is level. Then, pour over a thin and even layer of your cooled custard. Finally, carefully and lightly place the lengths of rhubarb around the cake like the hands of a clock (be careful not to push them into the batter so that they don't sink) and sprinkle the edges with flaked almonds.
10. Bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. If it begins to brown too quickly, cover it with some tin foil, but don't open the oven for the first 20 minutes at least!
11. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Serve immediately with a good cup of tea, and bask in the fact that you are definitely consuming one of your five a day!