I sure hope I’m not the only person who glances at rhubarb and immediately mentally tags it as red celery. Its stringiness and shape are dead-ringers for its green cousin, and save for the bright red hue, I’d probably be trying to munch on it with peanut butter. Luckily, though, I’m not color-blind, so I’ll save any unsavory combinations for the next time I’m blindfolded in the produce section of a grocery store. But despite my initial confusion with the fruit (or vegetable?), it turns out rhubarb is quite good, at least once you cook it down. I had actually never eaten rhubarb until earlier this summer. Sure, I had heard its name thrown around when discussing pies and strawberries, and I had seen it flaunted on many a blog, but I had never tasted it for myself. So first I tried a rhubarb crumb cake from Melissa Clark. It had first tantalized me here, and when I saw it in all its buttery, sugary goodness in her book, I marked it out as the first rhubarb recipe I would make. Now that I had my recipe, the trouble was actually finding the rhubarb. I finally met with success after a few days of scrounging, and armed with my bounty, it wasn’t long before I was happily enjoying the crumb cake and my first taste of rhubarb. The cake itself was moist and tender, the rhubarb was bright and tart, but those crumbs! Those crumbs, or more like oversized boulders of buttery, spiced streusel. The cake was soon demolished, leaving behind only an appetite for more rhubarb treats. So Melissa Clark was my hero again, with a riff on the classic upside-down cake that featuring chunks of rhubarb encased in a caramely brown sugar mixture instead of the traditional rounds of pineapple. There was no reprieve from the butter and sugar assault launched with the last cake to be found in this latest edition, so needless to say, it was equally delicious. Perhaps a little more refined and elegant-looking than its crumb cousin, but bolstering much more rhubarb. Next spring, I’ll be ready to pounce when I see rhubarb, and maybe even try it outside of a cake. Rhubarb Crumb Cake
adapted from Melissa Clark
This cake would benefit from a little lemon, so you might want to add about 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest to the filling and another 1/2 teaspoon to the cake. Also, my cake might look a little different because I reserved too much of the cake batter to spoon over the rhubarb, so it baked up over the crumbs and covered them. Instead of the crumbs being visible, they were hidden surprises in the cake.
One 8-inch square cake
1/2 pound rhubarb, rinsed and ends trimmed
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, softened and cut into 8 pieces
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch-square baking pan, tapping out any excess flour.
To make the rhubarb filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick. In a small bowl, toss it with sugar, cornstarch, and ginger. Set aside to macerate while you prepare the crumbs and cake.
To make the crumbs, in a large bowl, whisk together sugars, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and butter until smooth and fully incorporated. Stir in the flour with a spatula. It will look like a solid dough. Set aside.
To prepare the cake, in a small bowl (or the sour cream measuring cup itself), stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment or a hand mixer and a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until the butter and sour cream are fully incorporated and the flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add the remaining sour cream mixture in two additions, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.
Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb and its juices over batter. Dollop remaining 1/2 cup batter over rhubarb; don’t worry about making it look perfectly even.
Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They don’t have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size.
Sprinkle crumbs evenly over cake. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), about 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.
adapted from Melissa Clark, again
Makes a 9-inch round cake
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, divided and at room temperature, plus more to grease pans
1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, rinsed, ends trimmed, and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1/3 cup sour cream, preferably at room temperature
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 325° F. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan or 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment paper and sides of the pan. If you’re using a springform pan, wrap two layers of foil under the pan, and place it on a buttered or foil/parchment-lined baking sheet.
In a medium bowl, stir together rhubarb, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Set aside to macerate while you prepare the rest of the cake.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix together the brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat 2 sticks butter until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. With your fingertips, rub together the remaining 1 cup sugar with lemon zest until the lemon zest is completely incorporated and the mixture is fragrant. Add lemon sugar to the butter, and cream at medium-high speed until it’s light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl halfway through. Add the vanilla and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, then the lemon juice. (Don’t be worried if the mixture looks curdled.) On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture until just combined. Scrape down the mixer bowl as needed.
Pour the brown-sugar mixture into the prepared pan, then spoon the rhubarb and its juices on top. Dollop the batter over the rhubarb, and spread it evenly with a spatula so it covers all of the rhubarb. Smooth out the top.
Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and firm to touch and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out without any large, moist crumbs.
Place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the cake, place a plate or cake stand on top of the pan and turn it upside-down. Release the cake from the pan while still warm or else it will stick. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be stored at room temperature for 2 days or in the fridge for 3 days.