My first encounter with rhubarb was a complete and utter disaster.
Not a native plant to Sri Lanka, I discovered rhubarb when I had just started cooking. Of course, possessing a curiosity that could possibly be the death of me one of these days, I had to try something with it. I boiled it down with sugar and spices and attempted to make a sort of pudding out of it. Needless to say, it was not very palatable.
After that I avoided rhubarb like the plague. For a very long time.
But they say you need to face your demons so when I saw these red, glossy juicy demons staring at me from a supermarket shelf a few years back, I was all set to go head to head in full bloody combat. I grabbed a few stalks, headed home and planned a recipe.
Now this was an age when browsing recipes on the internet has not yet been heard of. So I was all alone with a bunch of rhubarb stalks and a slightly intimidated state of mind not really knowing where I was going with this. After much thinking, I embarked upon an idea that seemed like the right thing to do – to incorporate them into a vanilla cake.
Once the cake has been baked midway and the delicious fragrance of vanilla and something tart and juicy filled the house, I knew I had done the right thing. And so we introduced into our repertoire of favourite family dishes – rhubarb cake. My partner adores it, so much so that whenever I see rhubarb in the market, I always come home and bake a cake just for him.
So I brought home a bunch the other day as well. Laying it down next to the rest of the cake ingredients, I realized that I was a bit bored with the same old rhubarb cake time and time again. And then I came across a recipe for rhubarb upside down cake by Martha Stewart. I was intrigued! But knowing my notoriety in not being able to follow a recipe to save my life, I have adapted the recipe to my liking in this.
What is fascinating about cake is that not only does it have a juicy topping, it also has a crumble topping which sort of ends up as a deliciously crunchy, crumbly base. This is the new rhubarb favourite in the household, for a special treat that is.
- Prep Time : 15 minutes
- Cook Time : 40-45 minutes
- Yield : 8 large servings
To make the topping
- Whisk together the butter and the sugar.
- Stir in the flour until a crumbly mixture forms. Set aside.
To make the cake
- Toss the rhubarb pieces in 1/3 cups of sugar. Keep aside.
- Combine the butter and sugar and cream them until the sugar has dissolved. Add to this the two eggs. Beat well until light and fluffy.
- Add the vanilla extract. Mix well.
- Sift together the flour and the baking powder.
- Add in the flour little by little, scraping down the sides and beating well. incorporate the milk little by little and beating well after each addition.
- Prepare a round cake pan, ideally by buttering it down. Avoid lining it with parchment paper if you can as the rhubarb tends to stick to the parchment. Use a nonstick cake pan or a glass one, ideally 9 inches round and 3 inches thick.
- Toss the rhubarb once again in the sugar. Line the cake pan well. You can follow a round flower pattern or just arrange the pieces vertically. Leave 10- 15 pieces for later.
- Pour half the batter over the pan. Smooth it well and scatter the rest of the rhubarb pieces over it. Pour the rest of the batter on top of that.
- Scatter the crumble on top of this evenly.
- Bake on a moderate oven till a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. The top of the cake should have achieved a golden brown by then.
- Once done, run a knife around the edges of the cake gently and firmly. Invert onto a wire rack and let it cool.
The cake is quite visibly a work of art. Once cut into, you get a lovely white lightness of the interior, dotted with the vibrant red of rhubarb pieces in the middle bleeding onto the fluffy whiteness of the cake. As you cut the cake the knife cuts into the crumble with a crackle that is deeply satisfying, like dried leaves under your feet. The taste, well that is another story altogether.
As you raise the fork on to your lips you are first greeted by the vanilla notes followed by a deliciously tart-sweet piercing fragrance. The first bite is heaven. Your teeth sink into pillowy soft cushiony white cake moist with vanilla and then your teeth encounters soft and juicy rhubarb chunks squishy and mushy against your teeth, squashing with delicious sweet-tartness as you chomp on. And then the crunch of the crumbly topping takes you by surprise, that gratifying feeling of the base crumbling between the teeth, delightful aggregate against the soft moistness of the cake. The mix of vanilla and rhubarb has to be one of the best combinations ever, the sweetness of the rhubarb complemented by the soft and sensuous warmth of the vanilla with the tartness cutting right through. The flavours tease the taste buds with their contrasting nuances – sometimes sweet, sometimes tart, sometimes the pillowy softness clouding all judgment with its featherbed sumptuous luxury, sometimes the moist richness of the chunks of rhubarb undulating on the tongue, singing its own special song, only to be provided by an unexpected interlude by the crunchy crumble crackling upon the taste buds.
What a piece of art!
This is ideal as a dessert or as an afternoon indulgence with a cup of tea. But honestly, give me a slice of this with a fork for dinner and I’ll be just as happy.
- The original recipe calls for sour cream. I of course, replaced it with full cream milk. You are welcome to try it with sour cream if you wish.
- Be extra careful when inverting the cake. The crumble topping makes this transition extra difficult and messy but hey, if you have nimble hands and is careful (unlike yours truly) you can totally make it.
- Use a nonstick baking pan for this that you trust. Or butter up a glass pie dish of the same size. I tried it with a pyrex pie dish (albeit with a thudding heart) and it came out just fine.
- You can actually make this a lot prettier by arranging the rhubarb like a flower. Best cut it to an angle to form diamond shapes so that it’s friendlier towards forming circular patterns.
- I am not an endorser of white sugar but I use white sugar in this one to get that lovely whiteness of cake that contrasts with the red of the rhubarb and to get that lightness that you cannot achieve with the caramel-like quality of brown sugar.
- The freshest rhubarb makes the bestest cakes :)