Rhubarb crumble with vanilla custard

by Victoria Brown

Paul Wheeler of Paul Wheeler Fresh Supplies shares his favourite recipe, recreated by Victoria Brown

“I don’t think you can get any better than a rhubarb crumble. If there was one comfort food, this would probably be it,” says Paul Wheeler, who gave me this recipe as part of a series of interviews with Borough Market traders on the foods that are important to them—you can read the article here.

Rhubarb is the perfect filling, because it’s naturally very tart and contrasts well with the sweet crumble topping and custard. Paul always makes the custard from scratch, like his nan did, and he doesn’t use corn flour—“it’s cheating!”—but if you are worried about the custard curdling and/or you are short on time, it helps to stabilise the yolks and the custard will thicken faster.

The season for forced Yorkshire rhubarb has just begun, which is lucky because “it has to be Yorkshire rhubarb”. A squeeze of lemon helps it to retain its vibrant colour.


For the crumble:
125g butter, room temperature
180g plain white flour
60g golden caster sugar

For the fruit:
1kg Yorkshire forced rhubarb
Squeeze of lemon (juice of 1 quarter, approx.)
150g caster sugar

For the custard:
6 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp corn flour (optional)
½ pint double cream
½ pint whole milk
1 vanilla pod


Preheat the oven to 180C. To make the crumble topping, put the butter in a large mixing bowl and break it into chunks. Add the flour and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, mix in gently with your fingertips and put it in the fridge.

Trim the rhubarb, removing the leaves and the very base of the stalk. Cut it into 2 inch pieces and arrange in a baking dish. Squeeze lemon over the rhubarb, sprinkle 100g of the sugar over the top, cover with foil and put in the oven. Cook for 1 hour or until tender, but still retaining it’s shape. Towards the end of cooking, taste and add more sugar if desired. It should be quite tart to contrast with the custard and crumble topping.

While the rhubarb is cooking, make the custard. In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, caster sugar and corn flour, if using. Pour the cream and milk into a heavy-based saucepan. Split the vanilla pod, scrape the seeds out and add them to the saucepan with the pod.

Bring the milk and cream to a gentle simmer, but don’t let it boil. Slowly pour the warm milk and cream onto the eggs, whisking constantly, until you have whisked it all in.

If you are not using corn flour, place the bowl of custard over a saucepan of boiling water and whisk until it has thickened to the consistency you desire. If you are using corn flour, return the custard to the heavy-based saucepan, place over a low heat and stir until it has thickened to the consistency you desire. It takes at least 20 mins for it to start thickening. The longer you heat it, the thicker it will get.

About 20 mins before the rhubarb is ready, spread the crumble on a large oven tray lined with baking parchment. Bake for 10 mins, take out and use a fork to move it around and break up any large chunks. Put it back in the oven for another 5 mins, then remove and put to one side to cool slightly. This is not the traditional way to cook a crumble, but it helps to maintain a crispy top.

Remove the rhubarb from the oven, sprinkle the crumble over the top and serve with the custard.

Recipe: Paul Wheeler
Images: Victoria Brown