Rhubarb and Custard Bars

Recipe by Orland Murrin
Here's a seasonal treat from Orlando Murrin, who writes the Devon Cook column for Crumbs Devon magazine. Now is the ideal time to make this sumptuous bake, when the rhubarb season overlaps with the first English strawberries.
This recipe makes enough for a large party, but it keeps well  - 3 days in the fridge, or a couple of months in the freezer! 
A soft, moist dessert or teatime treat that combines two favourite flavours of childhood. You can bake the cake in a tin of a different shape, but keep an eye on the baking time, and shield with foil if it starts to brown before being cooked through.
The tin used here is the Mary Berry Traybake Tin, £10.99 from Lakeland.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 24

FOR THE FRUIT

  • 400g rhubarb
  • 350g strawberries
  • 35g (about 3tbsp) sugar

FOR THE CUSTARD CAKE

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 100g custard powder
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 1tbsp cornmeal (optional)
  • 4 eggs
  • 150g soured cream
  • 1tsp vanilla 
  • 300g butter, softened
  • 300g caster sugar
  • splash of milk if necessary
  • 50g flaked almonds, for sprinkling
  • icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

METHOD

  1. Wash and trim the rhubarb the cut into sticks about the thickness of your little finger and 2-3cm long. Cut the tops off the strawberries and halve or quarter if large. Mix with the sugar then arrange in one layer in a large baking tin or dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 180C/160 fan, stirring very gently at half time, until just tender (but not soft). Slide it into a large colander (to avoid breaking up the fruit) set over a bowl, to drain and cool. 
  2. Prepare a 34x24cm traybake tin by lining the base with baking paper and brushing or spraying the sides with a little oil.
  3. Make the cake in the traditional way, using a hand or stand mixer. Whisk together the flour, custard powder, ground almonds and cornmeal (the cornmeal enhances colour and texture, but not worth buying specially). Beat the eggs, soured cream and vanilla and have the milk standing by. Cream the butter and sugar then fold in the flour mixture alternately with the egg mixture. If the mixture seems stiff, fold in the milk. Using a slotted spoon, add the rhubarb and strawberries and fold in as lightly as possible, till just mixed. Try not to break up the fruit. Spoon the mixture into the tin and lightly level the surface. 
  4. Scatter with the flaked almonds then bake for 45-50 minutes (same oven temperature as before), turning at half time, until risen and pale gold, and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. If necessary, cover loosely with foil for the last 5 minutes or so, so it doesn’t get too brown on top.
  5. Allow to cool for half an hour, then invert carefully onto a board, peel off baking paper and invert once again onto a cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely then dust with icing sugar if you wish and cut into bars or squares.

Don’t waste the fruit syrup collected in step 1 – drizzle over the bars if serving as a dessert, over ice cream, or as a chic substitute for grenadine in cocktails, such as Tequila Sunrise.