Much to most Western Washingtonians’ surprise, we’ve had a warm, dry spring. It’s very strange. Most of my flower gardens are one month ahead of normal. The clematis have bloomed and gone, the calla lilies are in bloom (cue Katharine Hepburn) and the roses are very, very happy.
I inherited my rhubarb plants from the previous owner and they grew wonderfully the first year I was here. Last year, they happened to be in Tucker’s favorite path to the squirrels and they didn’t survive his trampling. This spring, I transplanted them in the side garden just above the rest of my edibles. Although they are small now, I believe they’ll be much happier there eventually. Since I’ve heard I shouldn’t pick rhubarb the first year of planting or transplanting, I’ve been depending on my friend, Peggy, to keep me well supplied. Her rhubarb is spectacular. The stalks are tall and healthy, the leaves giant. I tease her that she babies her rhubarb too much. (Rhubarb nearly grows like weeds in Western Washington.) But her rhubarb is some of the most beautiful I’ve seen. She has several varieties – both green and red – some quite old inherited from her mother-in-law.
Although rhubarb is still available, we’ll soon be distracted by the onslaught of berries. So as a last hurrah to rhubarb, here’s a simple upside down cake I created this spring to highlight this wonderful vegetable-turned-fruit. One of the keys to this cake is to separate the eggs and then fold in the whipped whites at the end, thus lightening the cake crumb. The other key is to not over mix the batter. Finally, this cake can be made with many types of fruit from peaches to apples to cranberries. You’ll probably find that you won’t need to roast other fruits much before adding the cake batter.
The combinations of sugars in this cake deepens the flavor. As for flour, I like the nuttiness of whole wheat pastry flour. If you prefer a less earthy flavor, use half whole wheat pastry flour and half all-purpose or white pastry flour (see note). Cardamom pairs nicely with rhubarb, but feel free to leave it out or replace it with cinnamon or half the amount in nutmeg.
Yield: One 10 inch cake serves 8-10
1/4 cup (2 oz.) brown sugar
1/4 cup (3 oz.) honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Combine all of the above ingredients except the rhubarb in a 1o x 2 inch cake pan. Place the pan in the oven to melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, remove the pan from the oven and stir to combine the ingredients. Add the rhubarb and arrange it so that the rhubarb is in one fairly snug layer on the bottom of the pan. Roast the rhubarb for 15-18 minutes, or until is is just tender to the touch. (Don’t over cook it at this point or it will break apart and not look as pretty in the end.) Remove the rhubarb from the oven and let it cool some while mixing the cake.
1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz.) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3 large eggs separated, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (9 oz.) whole wheat pastry flour or a combination of white and whole wheat flours
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (or more) cardamom
1/2 cup (4 oz.) whole milk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Cream the butter, sugars, honey and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle until light and fluffy. Scrape well. Add the egg yolks one at a time, scraping well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract.
Sift together the flour(s), baking powder and cardamom. On low speed, add 1/2 of the milk to the creamed mixture, then 1/2 of the flour until almost combined. Scrape well. Add the rest of the milk and then the remaining flour, mixing again until almost combined. Scrape well and mix until just fully combined. Move the batter to a large bowl.
Whip the egg whites with 1 tablespoon sugar to medium peak. With a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the cake batter until almost combined. Now fold in the remaining egg whites until fully combined.
Spread the cake batter on top of the roasted rhubarb, using light strokes to get it level. Bake the cake 45-55 minutes or until the cake springs back when touched. (You may see some rhubarb juices bubbling up on the sides.)
Cool the cake for about 1 hour. To serve, first slide a knife around the edge of the cake. Place a serving plate on top of the cake and invert the cake onto the serving plate. Gently remove the cake pan. Serve the cake warm or room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Note: White pastry flour can be made by combining 2/3 all-purpose flour and 1/3 cake flour. I use King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour which can be purchased in the Seattle area at PCC.