Winter always seems so depressing: it goes on forever, dark and gloomy, and I can never seem to get warm. The other night, I hopped into bed and it was so freezing, the one side of my body not touching the electric blanket ached the whole night through. It didn't help I'd been krumping half the night and left the window open in our bedroom for the midnight chill to settle in.
But I actually love winter. By the time summer has petered out in Melbourne, I'm well and truly ready for a bit of cool relief. Our summers are a slow burn, and culminate to a three to four week stint of stupidly hot weather that is just unrelenting. Autumn rolls in and we're instantly drinking red wine and making stews.
I love getting home, turning up the heater full bore and snuggling under the blanket until Matty gets home. Dinner is baked (often accompanied by a healthy glass of red) and we watch telly or read. (Who am I kidding? The only thing I'm reading after dinner is celebrity gossip websites. Britney's daily grocery shops won't perve on themselves.) Then it's time to make the made dash to the cold half of the house and warm up all over again.
Since we were little, it's always been the same. Stay warm in the lounge til bedtime, then run squealing into the other room, like it's a total shock its so cold even though you go through the same exercise every night. Swan Hill was especially cold in winter times, and bed socks were warmed by the fire each night to cut through some of that chill. Mostly they just ended up scalding my little feet, but it was worth it just to have steamy feet at bedtime.
Another winter ritual we looked forward to was stewed fruit and custard. Apples, quinces and pears were often on the agenda, but my favourite of all was rhubarb. It is so sharp, so tangy that the sweet, creamy custard was often a relieving contrast. I think it's crazy pink colour may have also had something to do with my 6 year old obsession.
The engagement party was calling and I knew some little tartlettes would be a good addition to the dessert table. Rhubarb looked pretty good at the market (though, admittedly it's not at it's absolute peak right now) and I considered a creme patisserie to accompany it. But I felt something a little more punchy was in order. Enter chocolate creme.
I wasn't sure if the rhubarb would overpower the chocolate, like Barry Manilow singing a duet with Justin Bieber. But it worked. Just enough tang to cut through the rich custard creme. Again, like Bieber and Manilow.
There are many winter traditions I'm not a fan of: chilblains (a little treat from paper thin floors in Swan Hill), early morning bike rides that freeze your head off, clothes off the line feeling constantly damp. But rhubarb and chocolate in a little pastry shell. Bring on the short days: I'm up for that.
2 tbsp caster sugar
juice and rind from 1 orange
1/3 pastry shells from yesterday's recipe
50g caster sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
2 egg yolks
100g dark chocolate
To prepare rhubarb, preheat oven to 180ºC. Chop rhubarb into one inch pieces, sprinkle with sugar, juice and rind. Cover with tin foil and bake for around 1 hour, or until rhubarb is soft and its pink juices have been released.
To make the chocolate cream, combine the milk and cream in a saucepan with the vanilla. Mix the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour with a whisk until pale and creamy. Once the milk has come to the simmer, pour one third over the egg yolks, stirring continuously.
Pour the mix bake into the saucepan and simmer, stirring vigorously until the mix has thickened and is just simmering. Remove from heat, and divide into two bowls. Add the chocolate to one bowl and stir until melted. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool. The plain custard will be used in your strawberry tartlettes later in the week.
To assemble, fill the pastry shells with the rhubarb and top with chocolate creme.