Proper custard adds so much to rhubarb, turning it into such a beautiful treat. Just make sure you pour it out in front of everyone, so they can see the gorgeous marbling effect.
I’ve used balsamic vinegar to flavour my rhubarb, which you might think a bit bonkers, but it adds a really interesting layer of sticky sweetness. Give it a go!
To cook the rhubarb, preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6. Place the rhubarb pieces in an ovenproof dish or tray and sprinkle over the sugar, orange zest and juice, grated ginger and balsamic vinegar. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the rhubarb has softened. Have a taste and add more sugar if it is too tart for you. Pop the foil back on top to keep the rhubarb warm while you make the custard.
To make the custard, mix the milk, cream, 3 tablespoons of caster sugar and the vanilla pod and seeds together in a saucepan. Bring just to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave for a couple of minutes to cool slightly and allow the vanilla flavour to infuse. Discard the vanilla pod.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the 2 remaining tablespoons of caster sugar until pale. Ladle a little of the hot milk mixture onto the eggs and whisk immediately. Continue to add the milk, a ladleful at a time, whisking each well before adding the next. Pour this mixture back into the warm saucepan and cook very gently for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. The eggs should cook just enough to thicken the custard, but not enough for it to scramble. If you start to see flecks or lumps of egg in your custard, don’t panic – just take it straight off the heat and pour into a cold saucepan to cool it down then strain through a sieve into a clean jug. Serve the rhubarb at the table with a good drizzle of your warm delicious custard.
To make the crumbly shortbread, preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/gas 2. Butter a 24cm square baking tin. Cream the butter and sugar together with a whisk or wooden spoon, until pale, light and fluffy. Add the plain flour and semolina or cornflour. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon, then use your hands to knead it into a smooth dough.
Dust a clean surface and a rolling pin with flour and roll the dough out so it’s about 2cm thick all over and big enough for the baking tin. Transfer the dough to the tin, poking it into the corners with your fingers (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Prick all over with a fork, then pop it in the oven for 50 minutes, until lightly golden on top.
Remove the shortbread from the oven and sprinkle generously with caster sugar. Let it cool slightly in the tin, then cut it into 12 chunky, finger-sized pieces and enjoy!