I look forward to spring because that's when two of my favorite local farm ingredients—strawberries and rhubarb—finally arrive in the market. For desserts, this combination is a classic. The natural sweetness and floral flavor of strawberry acts as a counterbalance to the tartness and acidity of rhubarb.
We love our mille-feuille in France, but the process of creating the traditional puff pastry for the dessert of "one thousand leaves" is time-consuming. By contrast, this recipe couldn't be simpler, because it uses sheets of prepared phyllo dough. You brush the phyllo with melted butter and crumple it a little with your fingers to give it a wavy texture. The fruit is gently cooked to create a rhubarb-infused syrup; I like to add a little of the syrup to the whipped cream, which is otherwise unsweetened. You can put your own spin on the dessert by adding mint, lavender, or other herbs or flavorings to the fruit.
My favorite part is serving this to children and introducing them to rhubarb—that amazing vegetable that masquerades as a fruit. As for the grown-ups, I propose they pair this treat with a glass of rosé Champagne and toast to this season of renewal and a wonderful summer ahead.
WHAT TO DRINK
Daniel Johnnes, wine director of Daniel Boulud's restaurants, agrees that the joyous nature of this mille-feuille calls for some bubbly, such as a celebratory rosé Champagne. Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($80) is "elegant, refined, and festive," he says. A more casual alternative is Terres Dorées FRV 100 ($17), a sparkling rosé from Beaujolais producer Jean-Paul Brun. "It's creamy and has a strawberry-like sweetness," says Johnnes, "making it an especially delicious pairing for this dessert."
9 sheets phyllo dough (about ¼ lb.)
6 T butter, melted
½ cup confectioners' sugar
1 lb. strawberries, hulled and quartered
¾ lb. rhubarb, cut in ¼" pieces
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
Juice of 1 lemon, 1 tsp. finely grated zest
1½ cups heavy (whipping) cream
Preheat the oven to 350°F; line two baking sheets with parchment. Lay one sheet of phyllo on a large cutting board and cover the remaining phyllo with a clean, damp dish towel. Brush the surface of the phyllo sheet with melted butter and, using a sifter, dust a light coating of confectioners' sugar on top. Layer another sheet of phyllo on top and repeat the process twice to make three layers; cut into six equal-size squares. Working quickly, while the dough is still pliable, use your fingers to gently gather up each square to make a free-form, wavy surface 4" to 5" wide. With an offset spatula, transfer the squares to one of the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1" apart. Repeat these steps with the remaining phyllo dough to make 18 squares. Bake until golden-brown and crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then dust with more confectioners' sugar. (The phyllo can be baked up to two days in advance and stored in an airtight container.)
Bring a large pot of water to a simmer. In a large, heatproof bowl, toss the strawberries, rhubarb, granulated sugar, vanilla bean, and half the vanilla seeds. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and set over the simmering water (the fruit juice will form a syrup). After 30 minutes, remove and unwrap the bowl, and test a piece of rhubarb to see if it's tender. If not, stir, rewrap the bowl, and set over the water for 15 minutes more, or until the rhubarb is tender but not mushy. Set a colander over a saucepan and strain the fruit. Transfer the fruit to a bowl, remove the vanilla bean, and chill. Set the pan of strained syrup over medium heat and reduce to a thick, saucy consistency, about 15 minutes, then transfer to a bowl and chill. Stir the lemon juice and 4 T of the fruit syrup into the chilled fruit.
Using an electric mixer, whip the cream to medium peaks. Add 4 T of the fruit syrup, the remaining vanilla seeds, and the lemon zest, then whip to combine. To assemble each mille-feuille, spoon 3 T of the fruit onto a phyllo square, then spoon on 2 to 3 T of the whipped cream. (Alternatively, use a piping bag to layer on the cream.) Set another phyllo square onto the cream, add another layer of fruit and cream, and top with a third square of phyllo. Transfer to six dessert plates; if desired, spoon any remaining fruit syrup around each serving.