Let me start off by saying I named this dessert Three-Layer Bliss after the absolutely magical mixture of crumbly shortbread, puckering rhubarb, sweet strawberries, and fluffy meringue. Perfecting this recipe to be just what I wanted it to be, however, was anything but blissful.
I initially made this dessert in early June when the first beautiful red and green stalks of rhubarb appeared at my Co-Op. While the source recipe describes “the perfect springtime dessert”, the pilot attempt fell flat. I was convinced I knew what the problem was and that the solution would be a quick fix… but then this pattern continued through the second dish… and the third.
You, though, do not have to worry because I’ve figured it out! Minor issues aside, the fact that I was even able to eat this dessert three times in the span of a month goes to show how scrumptious it is! The recipe below is the final version so you can just go from there with no worries. If you’re curious how I came to this variation, look under Beezer’s Notes.
(adapted from Daphne West’s Rhubarb Cream Delight in the VT Make-A-Wish Cookbook)
For the Crust…
1 ½ C all-purpose flour
¾ C butter (1 ½ sticks), chilled
3 T sugar
For the Filling…
1 C sugar*
4 egg yolks, beaten
2/3 C evaporated milk
3 T all-purpose flour
½ t freshly grated nutmeg
2 C chopped rhubarb
2 C hulled and sliced strawberries
*Note: use more or less sugar depending on how sweet your berries are and according to your personal preference. I prefer a more tart filling (the source recipe calls for 2 Cups!) and my berries were fairly sweet. If using only strawberries and no rhubarb, I would suggest 2/3 C.
For the Meringue…
1 C sugar
8 egg whites
- First prepare the crust (a basic shortbread). Preheat oven to 350°F. Using a food processor or pastry cutter combine the flour, chilled butter, and sugar until the mix resembles coarse meal. Press the dough into the bottom of a greased and floured 9 x 13″ baking dish and bake until lightly golden or about 20 minutes. Allow the crust to finish baking and set aside to cool before continuing.
- For the filling, combine sugar, flour, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. In another, combine egg yolks and evaporated milk. Add the wet mix to the dry and whisk until incorporated. Add the rhubarb – NOT strawberries – and toss gently until well coated. Pour the rhubarb/custard mix into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low heat stirring constantly (it can scald quickly!). Continue to cook until custard thickens and rhubarb is soft, but not mushy – about 15 minutes.
- Add the strawberries to the saucepan and cook for another 3-5 minutes to gently soften.
- Once the crust has returned to room temperature (or is at least warm and not hot), pour the filling on top of it and smooth with a spatula. Set aside.
- Beat egg whites on high until soft peaks form.………. Mix in sugar until glossy.
- ………………..……………………Pour meringue on as the final layer and smooth with a spatula. If desired, take a clean dry spoon and press the back of it gently into the meringue in neat rows, pulling up swiftly to form tiny peaks.
- Back the dish 5 – 10 minutes or until the meringue has lightly browned.
Well, again, the fact that I could eat this large dessert three times in a single month should tell you it’s worth trying. The fact that I also ate the second and third attempts at perfecting this dish by myself should also convince you that Three-Layer Bliss is a darn good dessert, haha. I’ll confess I’ve always had a weakness for rhubarb and meringue. That said, even folks who don’t particularly like rhubarb tried it (remember those 4 helpings I mentioned in the beginning?) and were converted.
All those interested in the nitty-gritty: read on. All others, thanks for sticking with me this far – now go try this dessert!
The Adaptations: I. I reduced the sugar immediately (as per my usual with sweet recipes) and doubled the egg whites for the meringue (I really like meringue), but stayed true to the recipe for everything else the first time around. Unfortunately, the custard didn’t cook long enough and I also forgot to double the amount of sugar added to the meringue to make up for the extra egg whites. Oops. Thus, the first attempt had wonderful fruit, but a very runny center and egg-smelling top.
II. I continued to keep the sugar reduced and the meringue doubled (remembering to also double the meringue sugar this time!). I also cooked the filling three times as long (5 minutes to 15) which resulted in a wonderfully thickened custard (yay!). My mistake here was to keep the fruit in the custard for the longer cooking time – the finished dessert had a decent consistency, perfect meringue, but mushy and flavorless strawberries…
III. Sugar reduced: check. Meringue sugar doubled: check. Fruit added to the custard at the end: check. This time? Perfect crust. Perfect meringue. Perfect custard. Flavorful and juicy strawberries… and rock-hard rhubarb that made your mouth pucker. *sigh* I decided against snapping a third shot since the finished products all look the same anyway, and by this point I was fairly discouraged.
IV. But stubbornness prevails! Cook the rhubarb with the custard and add the strawberries at the end, of course! Finally, since I make mine rather tart I also like adding a small drizzle of honey over the top before serving. Mmmm, success sure is sweet…
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥