Thursday, 14 July 2011

Limburgse vlaai

It seems to be high rhubarb season in Alida Irwin and the Croissanteur’s charming and productive acres of garden. I staggered homewards last weekend under a bunch so generous and of such prodigious length that it couldn’t fit it in the fridge, so something had to be done to make it fit. I’m a fan of roasted rhubarb rather than stewed – it’s more colourful, more tart, more intense, and retains just enough of its former shape, and could not be easier. Here’s the word on roasting it.

Trim a bunch of rhubarb and cut into 5cm lengths (without being exact about it), and throw into baking dish with 100g raw sugar and a vanilla bean, maybe some orange or lemon peel. Cover with foil and put into a 200C oven for about 15 minutes before removing the foil, shaking the dish a bit and continuing to roast for another 5–10 minutes to reduce the syrup. The rhubarb will still look quite solid after this, but touching it with a fork will reveal that it’s meltingly soft.

Rhubarb thus roasted can sit in its fuchsia-red syrup in a container in the fridge for a few days until a fitting purpose arises for it, or until one’s Dutch colleague hears of it and suggests something that requires spelling out and googling. When no full recipes are to be had in English, well, it has to be fabricated according to The Tall Designer’s description and some Google Images. And when the traditional strawberries are unavailable for the traditional pairing with rhubarb, frozen raspberries must be dug out.

Who knows what a real Limburgse vlaai has in common with the custardy bread-pastried fruit pie I turned out? They look a bit flatter, for a start; I think there’s only one way I can really find out, though, and I need to save up first.

1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
1/3 cup milk warmed in microwave for 20 seconds or so
1.75 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon raw sugar
1 teaspoon salt
60g butter, room temperature
1 egg

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm milk. While they get to know each other, mix the flour with the sugar and salt in the bowl of the mixer. When the milk looks slightly frothy, add it to the dough and mix for a minute with the dough hook. Add the egg and continue to knead until the dough comes together, then throw in not-too-hard chunks of butter.

It took about ten minutes to reach a point where it was all balling together and coming away from the sides of the bowl – for a while I thought it would never lose its buttery stickiness. Cover the bowl with cling film and place somewhere warmish to rise, such as atop the column heater.

Grease a pie dish, roll two-thirds of the dough into a circle on a floured surface – easier said than done, as it keeps shrinking itself again like slithery soft elastic – and pull and push it into the pie dish, more or less up the sides. Jab holes in the dough, cover with a tea towel and let rise again until puffy. Keep the other third of dough for rolling out and then deciding you’re not up to cutting into the traditional even strips and crisscrossing over the top, and dig out the all-too-rarely-used lattice cutter instead.

Meanwhile, make custard – I used the same basic recipe as for the quince custard cake:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons cornflour
500mL milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or a vanilla bean

Whisk together the eggs, cornflour and milk in a saucepan, and then place over low–medium heat, continuing to whisk until thickened, 10–15 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the sugar and vanilla extract, or scrape in the bean.

Pour the cooling custard into the puffy dough case, cover with the rhubarb and raspberries, and drape the lattice-cut dough over the top, squidging it around the perimeter into oneness with the base dough.
Bake in a 200C oven for fifteen to twenty minutes until golden and oozing juice is caramelising around the lattice top. It looks as if it might be pretty good straight out of the oven, although TDT said it was eaten cold, so we did that today around the lunch table. Never before was Guinea Pig Thursday so aptly named. It was edible, not too bad at all, although I would like to know what Flemish spices or flavourings are used to round it out and take it further.

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