Rhubarb Tart with Lemon Verbena Recipe

I am rhubarb’s most adoring fan.

Throughout the season, in the spring and then in late summer, my weekly market run includes a big bunch of blushing stalks that I’ll cook promptly, once home, into a compote* I’ll eat for breakfast (with a gurgle of homemade kefir) throughout the week.

While compote is my standard use for rhubarb, I love it in a tart, too, and that’s what I decided to serve for dessert last week, when we had friends over for dinner.

My mother makes a fine one on the crisp pâte sablée I’ve shared in my book, with a thin layer of custard filling that is refered to as migaine, goumeau, or not at all, depending on the region. I walked in her footsteps for the most part, straying here and there to try a couple of new things.

In addition to the rhubarb stalks, I had a fresh bunch of lemon verbena that was looking at me with an expression like, “Um, hello?”

First of all, I recently received a copy of Catherine Kluger‘s little book on tarts, and I felt inspired to try her recipe for pâte sucrée (sweet tart dough).

The dough came together easily, and baked into quite the delicate crust, not too rich, not too sweet, and lightly crumbly in texture. I had major difficulties in rolling it out, but the recipe had nothing to do with it: it just happened to be a very warm day — we were going through a mini heatwave that would end in a thunderstorm later that night — and this is a notoriously bad state of affairs if your mission is to roll out pastry.**

Second, I wanted to add a flavoring of some sort to compliment the rhubarb: rhubarb + ginger is the pairing I had in mind originally (in the form of fresh and/or candied ginger, I hadn’t yet decided). But I also had a fresh bunch of lemon verbena on hand that was looking at me with an expression like, “Um, hello?” I didn’t approve of the attitude, but I had to agree their singing voices would harmonize perfectly.

Mini Cookbook of French Tarts

I also applied two tricks I’d picked up while sifting through the comments below this post: 1- I macerated the rhubarb in sugar for a couple of hours so it would release some of its juices. These I reduced into a syrup and then infused with the lemon verbena.

And 2- I sprinkled the bottom of the par-baked crust with a little tapioca, to contain any excess juice from the rhubarb. Unless you’re looking really closely you can’t make them out in the finished product, but it contributes to the silkiness of the filling, and helps the crust retain its crispness. This trick can be applied to any tart in which the fruit might release too much juice during the baking (peaches, for instance) and it’s one I call upon for my savory vegetable tarts as well, though I’ll use orzo pasta (pâtes langue d’oiseau) or bulgur then.

The tart format really is a lovely foil for rhubarb; the best one, I would argue. It’s a humble, comforting dessert — there’s nothing intimidating about the rhubarb tart — that celebrates the complex tang of the fruit***, and in this version, the lemon verbena flavoring subtly accents its floral notes.


* I enjoy the tartness of rhubarb, so I sweeten my compote very lightly, adding about 10% of the net weight of rhubarb in unrefined cane sugar. I combine the rhubarb chunks with the sugar in my cast-iron cocotte and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice during that time. Then I remove the pot from the heat and let it sit covered for a while to finish softening while we eat lunch.

** When I mentioned this painful situation, Rachel shared the following tip: place an ice-filled tray on your work surface for ten minutes beforehand. It will lower the temperature of the surface (provided it’s not wood) and help keep the dough cool enough to work with.

*** From a botanical perspective, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. Maybe it could switch seats with the fruit-as-a-vegetable eggplant or cucumber or avocado, and then the world would be a less confusing place?

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Rhubarb Tart with Lemon Verbena Recipe

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 4 hours

Makes one 28-cm (11-inch) tart (plus leftover tart dough).

Rhubarb Tart with Lemon Verbena Recipe


    For the filling:
  • 1 kilo (2 pounds 3 ounces) untrimmed rhubarb, to yield about 800 grams (1 pound 12 ounces) when trimmed
  • 80 grams (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) sugar (I use finely ground, blond raw sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon uncooked tapioca (or semolina)
  • about 12 leaves fresh lemon verbena
  • 1 rounded tablespoon crème fraîche or heavy cream
  • 1 large egg
  • For the dough:
  • 200 grams (7 ounces, about 1 1/2 cups) pastry flour (in France, use a T45 or a T55)
  • 80 grams (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) sugar (I use finely ground, blond raw sugar)
  • 25 grams (1/4 cup) almond powder (a.k.a. almond meal)
  • 120 grams (8 1/2 tablespoons) cold butter, diced (I use semi-salted; if you use unsalted, add a good pinch of salt), plus a little for the pan
  • 1 large egg, beaten


    1. Prepare the rhubarb
  1. Start about 3 hours before baking. Trim the ends of the rhubarb stalks (no peeling necessary) and slice into 2-cm (3/4-inch) chunks. Place in a nonreactive shallow dish, sprinkle with half of the filling's sugar (40 grams or about 3 tablespoons) and toss to coat. Leave to macerate at room temperature so it will release some of its juices.
  2. 2. Make the dough
  3. Start about 2 hours before baking. Combine the pastry flour, sugar, almond powder, and salt if using, in the bowl of a food processor or stand mixer. Add the diced cold butter and mix until the mixture takes the consistency of breacrumbs. Add the egg and mix just until the dough starts to come together. (This can also be done by hand, but try to handle the dough as little as you can and without heating the butter too much with your hands.)
  4. Turn out on a clean work surface. Divide the dough into one 300-gram (10 1/2-ounce) piece and one 180-gram (6 1/3-ounce) piece, and pat each piece of dough into a disk without kneading. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap.
  5. You'll be using the larger of the two pieces for this tart. Place that one in the fridge and chill for 1 hour. (The other piece can be reserved -- and optionally frozen -- for another use; it is big enough to line a 22-cm [8 2/3-inch] tart pan.)
  6. 3. Roll out the dough
  7. Remove the dough from the fridge and let it rest for a few minutes at room temperature so it's not too cold, or it won't roll out well.
  8. Butter a 28-cm (11-inch) tart pan, preferably one with a removable bottom.
  9. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface and transfer it to the pan to line it, crimping the sides all around with your fingers for a prettier effect. Don't worry if it tears -- just press it back together or patch it up if necessary. Prick the bottom with a fork a few times, and return to the fridge to rest for 30 minutes (this will prevent the dough from shrinking or sliding down the sides of the pan).
  10. 4. Prepare the lemon verbena syrup
  11. While the crust is chilling, place a medium colander over a bowl and pour the rhubarb and juices through the colander to drain thoroughly. Set the rhubarb chunks aside, and transfer the strained juices to a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce until you have about 80 ml (1/4 cup) juices. Remove from the heat, add the lemon verbena leaves and let steep.
  12. 5. Blind-bake the crust
  13. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F) and insert the pan in the oven to blind-bake (i.e. bake without the filling) for 10 minutes.
  14. 6. Add the rhubarb
  15. Remove the pan from the oven. Sprinkle the tapioca evenly across the bottom (this will help absorb the rhubarb juices and keep the crust crisp) and arrange the chunks of rhubarb on top in a crowded but single layer. Return to the oven for 20 minutes.
  16. 7. Add the custard
  17. While the crust and rhubarb are baking, sieve the reduced juices into a bowl to remove the lemon verbena leaves (or just fish them out). Add the remaining sugar from the filling ingredients (40 grams or about 3 tablespoons), the cream, and the egg, and beat to combine.
  18. Remove the tart from the oven and turn the oven off. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the rhubarb and return to the turned-off but closed oven for another 20 to 30 minutes, for the residual heat to gently set the custard.
  19. 8. Cool
  20. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely before serving.
  • I can’t stop myself cooking with rhubarb at the moment, particularly when it’s just sat there at the market looking at me! I never thought of using lemon verbena though, a great idea. I’ve just done a rhubarb and strawberry tart but used lemon zest instead, I’ll definitely have a go with lemon verbena next time – pure summer perfection!

  • My tart crusts never turn out as flakey and perfect as I’d like them to. Your tart looks delicious

  • Wow! I never would have thought to combine lemon verbena and rhubarb. Sounds absolutely heavenly. When I make rhubarb compote, I always add a pinch of cardamom.

  • I am in on the competition for being rhubarbs biggest fan. I love it.
    I wouldn’t know where to buy fresh lemon verbena leaves here in Colorado, so the ginger also sounds delicious. Thanks.

  • Ursula

    Hmmm, love rhubarb! (and custard, so doubly delicious….) Two questions: do you think you could add strawberries to this tart,and would you cook them first? I’m thinking not – just sliced raw into the first fruit mix to cook. Also, silly question – but the tapioca is uncooked, right?

  • Inspirant, l’infusion de verveine citron dans le sirop.
    Tu as déjà essayé la compote de rhubarbe au four? Tu mélanges rhubarbe et sucre dans un plat, tu mets au four à 180° sous un autre plat qui cuit par ex, c’est délicieux (ma version préférée).

  • This is a tart the Tarts are going to try. The dough sounds delicious!

  • I like to sprinkle with crumbled social tea cookies, but tapioca pearls are a good idea!

  • Perfect! I’m growing lemon verbena for the first time this year, and was wondering what I could do with it.

  • This sounds amazing! May have to hunt down some rhubarb:)

  • Thanks so much for the tapioca tip! I’ve been needing something to handle the extra juice and it seems like just the trick. Wonderful recipe as well – can’t wait to try!

  • Thanks for the kind comments, everyone, I’m pleased to hear from fellow rhubarb fans!

    Coco – I’ve never tried it with cardamom, but I will. It sounds really interesting.

    My Kitchen in the Rockies – I understand lemon verbena is relatively easy to grow, if you can find the seeds. Dried leaves could be used as well.

    Ursula – Yes, the tapioca pearls are uncooked when you add them in — they cook along with the fruit. Not a silly question at all, so I’ve made the recipe clearer.

    As for strawberries, you could add them in with the rhubarb (without cooking them first), or you could insert them amid the rhubarb chunks just before pouring in the custard mixture, so they’ll cook only briefly and keep their fresh flavor.

    Flo – I’ve tried cooking the rhubarb compote in the oven, and it does work really well (the chunks stay nice and whole) but it’s a bit more difficult to monitor the proper cooking time. On the stove top, I find it easier to make sure it’s not overcooked.

  • I too would like to enter the most adoring fan contest. We had a plant at the house where I was born, and I have a few plants at the community garden. I loved the ‘***’ aside — it *would* be great if tomatoes were veggies and rhubarb a fruit.

  • I love the tip about sprinkling tapioca over the crust! Thanks! You said you use orzo with a savory crust? About how much? I would be worried the pasta wouldn’t cook all the way through and you would have very al dente pasta at the bottom of your tart.

  • kira

    What kind of non-reactive dish can be used? Would glass be okay or what would you recommend?

  • Sam Bernstein

    I love ruharb also!

  • Thanks for clarifying about the tapioca. I’ve never heard that tip, and I hate how the bottom crust of my pie always gets so soft! It makes it very hard to serve.

    And to take you *** note to even new heights, do you know how many things are actually botanically berries? Even cucurbits like cucumber and zucchini. Trying telling your dinner guests that you are serving them a savory berry tart :)

  • Judy

    I’ve been growing rhubarb for 27 years, so if I can’t be the biggest fan, maybe I can be the oldest. It is super easy to grow, so anyone with a little garden space should try it. It is perennial, so once it is established, you will have it forever. My variety is mostly green, only a little pink on the stalks. I just picked enough for 2 large pies, and the plant doesn’t look any different. Just remember, the leaves are poisonous.

  • There aren’t many recipes using lemon verbena so I’m glad to find this one. I’m a rhubarb fan too – my post tomorrow includes it.

  • I’m not rhubarb’s most adoring fan, but might be soon after I try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  • This is a sensational and refreshing combination. I like that you added lemon verbena, which is one of my favorite herbs. It works so well to heighten tart flavors and give a hint of minty freshness.

    Also, thanks for the tip on macerating the rhubarb and creating a syrup. This is an excellent idea to infuse flavors.

  • You can be rhubarb’s #1 fan and I will be #2 (wink wink).

  • Rachel

    The timing of this post couldn’t be more perfect – I’ve just moved to a place where, unlike Los Angeles, you CAN find rhubarb at the farmer’s market! Looking forward to trying it (though being a hopeless ginger addict, I’ll probably go with that instead of lemon verbena).

  • There must be something in the air – oh wait, it’s spring! I just started a blog two days ago and my first post is about rhubarb. I’ve combined lemon verbena and strawberries with success, but it hadn’t occurred to me to mix it with rhubarb. Thanks for the inspiration! For background music while cooking, I can recommend the Rhubarb Tart song by John Cleese.

  • Hi Clotilde, I’ve been reading your blog for a while and it’s great! I love rhubarb, too. I mostly make jam with it – rhubarb and cardamom, rhubarb + strawberry + vanilla, rhubarb + ginger – but I love crumbles and tarts, too. This one sounds delicious, and it must smell divine! Thanks for the recipe and and the tip about tapioca :-)

  • Dessertfortwo – When I use orzo to absorb the juices in a savory vegetable tart, I sprinkle just a little onto the crust, maybe a couple of teaspoons? I forgot to mention I sometimes use rolled oats, too, as shown on the bottom picture in this post.

    Orzo cooks pretty fast and I’ve never had a problem with it being too al dente, but of course you have to make sure there will be juices for it to absorb, and that it will be in contact with the hot juices for about the time it would take to cook on the stove.

    Kira – You can use a glass or ceramic dish — the idea is simply to use a dish that won’t oxidize with the acidity of the rhubarb.

    Gabi – Ah yes, the berry thing! And then there’s that whole thing about accessory fruit like the fig and the strawberry, which are not themselves the fruit — instead the seeds they carry are the true fruits.

    Judy – I’m so envious! One day, I’ll have a garden and I’ll grow rhubarb in it. :)

  • Tracey

    HELP! Is it possible to buy rhubarb in Spain? I’ve seen it translated as ‘ruibarba’ but never actually seen it at a market…then again, I dreaded it as a child growing up in the UK, so maybe I’ve just missed it, thinking it was just one more exotic version of chard???

  • I love the idea of lemon verbena! As lovely as strawberry and rhubarb are together, it’s nice to try a new pairing.

  • Your tart looks great but unfortunately I am not a fan of this vegetable; in particular, when I was a kid, in summertime I was tortured by compotes, cakes, juices and even soups. It grows everywhere in Poland.

  • adding the lemon verbena is brilliant! Looks amazing.. I am adding it to today’s roundup. ;)

  • Clotilde,

    To make your rhubarb compote more yummy, add a bit freshly squeezed orange juice (better with the zest) before you put it on the stove. if I have some in the fridge, I’ll top my compote on skyr (the Icelandic dairy product), and its magnifique! Otherwise it goes on what Renata has made for me ;)

    PS: Renata is the name of my kefir grains!

  • nicholas

    from a botanical perspective, there is no such thing as a vegetable.

  • Tracey – I believe rhubarb needs a temperate climate to grow. Perhaps it is too warm in Spain, I’m not sure.

    Nicholas – Would you care to expand a little on that comment? And what would rhubarb be then, from a botanical perspective?

  • I’m a rhubarb lover too, and when I make compote I like to mix it with other fruits (apples, pears, bananas…) so that I add very little sugar, or even none, depending on how sweet the other fruits are. Even if it’s no longer a “pure” quintessential rhubarb taste, the rhubarb generally wins over the rest. :)

  • Francesca

    Judy – I’ve been told that all rhubarb grown normally is mainly green. The way to get pink stems is to grow it blind (in the dark). In the allotments near me, you can tell who’s growing rhubarb by the upturned buckets. Not particularly pretty though in a garden.

    Clotilde – My boyfriend says the climate in Yorkshire, England is the one that’s best for growing rhubarb. (There’s an area known as The Rhubarb Triangle that has it’s own appelation. It makes me chuckle to think of it in the same terms as Champagne.) When you say temperate, do you mean rainy?!

  • I knew about the tapioca tip but never heard of the bulgur tip; since I cook a lot with it, I am going to check it out, thanks!

  • Oooh, this is one I want to try immediately.

  • I never would have thought to combine rhubarb with lemon verbena, but it sounds wonderful! And what a pretty tart. Yum!

  • I love the tartness of rhubarb also, even though it is very rare to find it in Mexico (I did once!). I serve rhubarb pies with a dollop of cold, plain yogurt. They go together well.


  • Such a lovely tart… and the lemon verbena such a very interesting twist!! Pretty yummy tart…

  • Wonderful! I’ve never imagined lemon and rhubarb together and heaven knows why because they seem like they would adore each other! Love the inspiration!

  • I like the idea of the ice cube tray on the worksurface to cool it down. It reminds me of something I saw at one of Jacques Torres’ bakeries in NYC – a marble table for working with pastry dough that had pipes of cold water running through the marble so that the surface was always cool. Your idea is a home version of that – nice thought!

  • I love the pearl tapioca idea! Amazing, I must try it! Hope you are well :)

  • I really wish I could find rhubarb in Bulgaria because I have found some great recipes online… including this one.

  • This tart looks so scrumptious! Time to raid my parents rhubarb patch!

  • Karen

    “from a botanical perspective, there is no such thing as a vegetable”

    Exactly so. What we serve as vegetables are botanically from many parts of the plant: fruits (tomatoes, peppers, cukes, squash), stalks (celery, asparagus), roots (radishes, beets, turnips), tubers (potatoes), flower buds (broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes), stems (kohlrabi — yes, they’re swollen stems, not roots), seeds (corn, lima beans), and lots of leaves, of course (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc.).

    Fruit has a specific meaning in botany: “The ripened ovary of a seed-bearing plant containing the seeds.” But vegetable does not have a botanical definition. It’s really a culinary category, referring to edible parts of plants usually served in a savory fashion. Fruit also has a culinary meaning, i.e., parts of plants that are naturally sweet or served in a sweetened form. Really, they mean just what you think they do.

    The real error is this: People who say, “Did you know a tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable?” are taking the botanical term out of context, incorrectly mixing the usages. You can substitute any of the botanical terms above into that sentence, and then you get a sense of just how silly a statement it is.

    “Did you know that lettuce is a leaf, not a vegetable?”
    “Did you know that corn is a seed, not a vegetable?”

    There is no reason that the botanical term should trump the common usage!

    Hope this helps. (Want to hear my rant on pumpkins vs squash next?)

  • Karen – Thank you very much for the botanical clarification — very helpful, and very interesting. I’d never heard it laid out so plainly and I’ll remember that.

    And yes, I do want to hear your rant on pumpkins vs. squash! :)

  • This looks interesting….. too bad we can’t get rhubarb in malaysia. is there an alternative???

  • Soraya – I don’t know that any other fruit that can be compared to rhubarb — it’s so special! — but the basic method (minus the macerating) can be used for pretty much any type of fruit that you’d want to cook as a tart.

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