The very first time I had rhubarb, Leah and I were about ten years old and we were at a family reunion sometime in the summer. One of our aunts, who happens to be a wonderful cook, made a strawberry-rhubarb crisp. At the time I’d never eaten rhubarb before. I’m not sure what prompted me to give the crisp a try, but it was terrific and opened me up to the wonderful world of rhubarb!
Rhubarb is in that funny category of foods that are treated the opposite of how you’d expect–it’s a vegetable served as a fruit (just as avocados and tomatoes, fruits, are often served as veggies). It doesn’t get the press it deserves! It has a lovely tart flavor that pairs well with other fruits, but also shines on its own. To me, it has just the subtlest scent of vanilla. Once cooked, its texture goes from celery-like to fantastically jammy.
Here, stripes of sweet-tart rhubarb are nestled atop a moist, lightly spiced buttermilk cake. It’s a great combination because the bright tartness of the springy rhubarb offsets the darker spiced flavor. We served slices with lightly honey-sweetened whipped cream, which was an excellent accompaniment. It also would be great on its own or with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Your spring/summer will not be complete without this divine cake!
P.S. This cake takes just about an hour from start to finish and is great served warm. Do with that information what you will!
Rhubarb Upside-Down Spice Cake
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 1 9-inch cake
For the rhubarb topping:
- 1 pound (450 grams) rhubarb, ends trimmed off
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar (We haven’t tried it, but I bet this could be cut just a bit with little ill-effects)
- Zest of half a lemon
- 4 tablespoons (2 ounces or 55 grams) unsalted butter
- A couple pinches of salt
For the cake:
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
- 2/3 cup (125 grams) brown sugar
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- A dash or two of nutmeg (freshly grated is great, but regular old nutmeg is just fine)
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 or 10 inch dish (a deeper one is better if you’re going with a 9-inch pan). Alternatively, you can use an ovenproof 10-inch skillet to both cook the rhubarb and bake the cake.
Trim the rhubarb to lengths that will fit in your pan properly. Cut each stalk lengthwise into thin ribbons, about 1/4 inch thick.
Sprinkle sugar into a skillet (if you’re using a skillet to bake your cake in, this will be the same one!) and add lemon zest. Rub together the sugar and the lemon zest briefly to release the lemon oil. Add butter and salt and warm skillet over medium until butter melts, stirring regularly. Add rhubarb and cook, turning carefully, for 3 to 4 minutes, until the rhubarb has softened slightly and released some of its liquid (it will now be almost submerged in juices). Remove from heat. If you’re baking your cake in the skillet, set it aside. Otherwise, let the rhubarb cool briefly, and then place the strips in the bottom of your greased cake pan (pour over the juices, too!).
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugars until it’s light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Add the vanilla. Add baking powder, salt, and the spices and thoroughly mix them in. Add in buttermilk and mix (don’t worry if it looks a bit curdled right now–it will smooth out once you add the flour). Scrape the bowl with a spatula; add flour and mix until just combined.
Spoon the cake batter over the rhubarb mixture and smooth over as well as you can (it will even out on its own, so don’t worry if it’s a little uneven). Bake the cake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the cake and turn it out onto a cooling rack (or immediately onto a serving platter, if you’d like). Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or as-is. Enjoy!