In my opinion, rhubarb is a much underused delight. Widely considered a fruit, but technically a vegetable, their rosy stems have been used in culinary treats in Europe since at least 1608. Bringing their vibrant pop of colour to the otherwise muted tones of the traditional seasonal spring products, the intensity that forced rhubarb can bring to a dish, both in terms of flavour and colour is unique.
I wanted to make something to liven up a dark spring day: the kind of day when winter seems to be having one last push to keep a grip on the seasons before spring steals it from its bitter clasp. These lovely mini rhubarb meringue pies just the thing – and a total delight. The tartness of the rhubarb is perfectly offset by the light-as-a-cloud, fluffy meringue topper, finished off with a hint of orange zest that rises through the palate to add a warm spice-like depth to the flavour.
I love making pastry, but if you’re after a quick cheat, there’s no shame in using the shop-bought alternatives if you want to rustle something up quickly.
MINI RHUBARB MERINGUE PIES RECIPE
- Butter, for greasing the tins
- Sainsbury’s Dessert Pastry Block (500g) (chilled)
- 3x 400g packs essential Waitrose forced rhubarb
- Juice of 2 oranges
- Zest of 2 oranges
- Golden granulated sugar – to taste
- 2 egg whites
- 4 tablespoons caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180oC. You will need 2 muffin tins, a rolling pin, a 3 ½ inch round biscuit cutter, 24 muffin cases, dried peas or alternative for blind baking, mixing bowl, handheld or electric whisk and a baking tray.
FOR THE PASTRY CASINGS
Butter your tins – this is really important if you are to have a hope in getting these suckers out. Speaking from experience, things get messy otherwise. Another useful tip (in addition to greasing the tins) is to take a 1inch wide length of greaseproof paper to act as a “hammock” for each pie. It needs to be long enough to line the bottom of each of the muffin holes and leave a couple of inches sticking up on each side of each mini-pie to act as handles for when you remove your mini pies.
Dust flour over a clean surface and roll out your cold pastry. Then, taking your biscuit cutter, cut 24 rounds of pastry (rerolling as necessary). Lay each round of pastry over the respective holes in the tin, gently allowing the centre of the pastry so sink and start to line each hole. Being careful not to tear the pastry, poke the round gently down into the hole to line the tin and smooth out any wrinkles along the edges until you have filled the mould with your pastry. Once all of the pastry moulds have been made, place the tins in the fridge to allow the pastry to cool. This will also help stop it from shrinking during baking.
Whilst you’ll find that many recipes for mini pies do not require any blind baking, personally, I prefer it as I am not the biggest fan of soggy pastry. As such, this is the method I used for this recipe, but if you’re short on time, it’s OK to skip straight to creating the filling.
TO BLIND BAKE THE PASTRY CASES
Retrieve your tins from the fridge and insert paper muffin cases on top of the pastry moulds. Fill each case with dried peas, lentils, beans or other pulses to hold the cases in place. Blind bake your pie cases in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the case is just set. Remove the paper and beans and cook for a further 4-5 minutes, or until the base is dry and crisp and the top edges of the tart are golden.
FOR THE RHUBARB FILLING
Retain 6 of the thinnest, most vibrant stalks of rhubarb and put to one side.
Top and tail the rest of the rhubarb and then chop into small 1cm slices and add to a saucepan. Add the freshly squeezed juice and zest of one orange (retaining the juice and zest of the second orange for later) to the pan. Using a medium heat, bring the rhubarb and orange to boil and then place on the lid and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb starts to soften. Give it a good stir and maintain the heat.
Take your golden granulated sugar and add… to taste. I know that this is somewhat ambiguous, but the sweetness of a rhubarb tart can be a divisive subject for the food connoisseur. For me, I like a bit of the tartness of the rhubarb to come through, so I add about 160g, tasting as I go to make sure it’s not over-sweetened. That being said, some people prefer a sweeter filling, so it’s really up to you!
Once the sugar has dissolved and your filling is at your desired sweetness, spoon into your pastry cases. Bake them for 10 minutes, whilst you make the meringue.
FOR THE MERINGUE TOPPING
Take 2 egg whites and whisk until they are nice and frothy. Then, gradually add in the 4tbsp caster sugar, continuing to beat until stiff. Remove your pies from the oven and spoon the meringue topping liberally onto the top of each pie until the fruit is covered. Place back into the oven and bake for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the meringue starts to colour.
Remove trays from the oven and set to one side to cool.
FOR THE GLAZED RHUBARB TOPPERS (Optional)
Take the 6 stalks of rhubarb you set aside. Top and tail, and then chop the stalks into 4 equally sized lengths (around 2-3inches long). Then slice these pieces lengthways so they are halved. Place in a bowl and cover with the juice of one orange, moving the pieces around to ensure that they are totally covered.
Remove the rhubarb pieces from the orange juice and spread out evenly on a baking tray. Add a few tablespoons of orange juice to the tray to keep the rhubarb moist. Sprinkle the rhubarb with golden granulated sugar until each stalk has a light sugar coating. Cook in the oven for 10 minutes until the rhubarb has softened and started to glaze.
PUTTING THE PIES TOGETHER
To remove the pies from the tin, gently twist to loosen the pie in the mould and then, using the greaseproof paper handles, lift each pie gently from the case and leave to stand on a wire rack. Using a fork (or similar utensil) take two of the glazed rhubarb toppers and place on each mini pie.
Finish off with a dusting of orange zest.
Et voila! A wonderful springtime treat: light, fluffy and totally moreish!