By Rose McAvoy
One spring when I was about seven or eight years old my mom took my sister and I on a little trip to visit her great uncle and second cousins in the small town of Snoqualamie. The trip lasted only a few hours but I came home from the visit with two things that would impact the rest of my life.
The biggest deal, at the time, were the new to us, bicycles my sister and I were handed down from the cousins we played with that afternoon. If I am remembering correctly these were our first bikes and the ones on which we learned to ride. Mine was a big heavy green frame with purple handle bar grips that had sliver glitter pieces embedded in the rubber. I loved the idea of a green bicycle with sparkly purple handle bars but riding it freaked the crap out of me. I was happy enough with the training wheels firmly attached but once they were gone I didn’t want to take my toes off the ground and pedal. Subsequently I was the last kid on the block to master two wheels. But, I’ve been able to ride ever since!
My uncle had quite the garden around his modest home. I don’t remember the ratio of edibles to decorative plants but I do remember his rhubarb. Each plant sported hip high crimson stalks and I have yet to see any matching their length or diameter. The town where he lived is nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain range. The climate is typically cool and damp but he had one thing in his favor, when the clouds parted his garden was flooded with sunlight. To make the most of the sun’s rays he placed large plastic barrels over the rhubarb plants giving them there own private green houses. Oh boy did that do the trick. It was our great luck that in addition to the bikes he gave my mom a section of recently divided rhubarb to plant in her garden.
The yard around our little blue house was prime real estate for shade loving plants. Mom did her best with the rhubarb but it just didn’t love the spot where it was planted. Not that it died, it just didn’t come anywhere close to its sun drenched parent plants. Every spring it slowly pushed its elephant ear leaves out of the ground and eventually the stalks would show streaks of pink. For their effort the stalks grew wispy rather than robust but we harvested them once or twice during the summer. Sometimes our crop needed to be supplemented with a few stalks from the grocery store but there is no shame in that. All the waiting and watching helped me come to appreciate and love rhubarb in a way that I may not have if we only purchased it when we were in the mood for a pie.
A couple of years ago I planted a large rhubarb crown in my own garden. I picked a spot with both southern and western exposure and sprinkled the dirt with a bit of organic fertilizer. Last year was the first harvest, it began in late spring and went into the fall. By the end of the season I used a bunch and stashed several bags of chopped pieces in the freezer (it freezes beautifully). Now it is time to finish off that harvest before this year’s already abundant stalks begin to ripen.
I dug into the freezer to make these cakes. I call them coffee cake but we have been enjoying them as dessert. Eagle eyed readers will spot bits of peach on one of the slices. I started with a mixture of fruit but ultimately enjoyed the cake with just rhubarb the best. So often rhubarb is paired up with other fruit and while delightful it is also nice to let the complexity of rhubarb speak for itself.
If you have not yet tried baking with rhubarb, or if you have only ever eaten it in a pie, I hope you’ll give one or both versions of this cake a try. I can’t say the experience will be life changing but you never know! If nothing else this cake would make a lovely addition to a summer brunch menu.
Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Tangy rhubarb is sprinkled throughout this moist and springy cake. Serve as the sweet note to end a brunch or with a cup of afternoon tea.
This also makes a beautiful gluten free cake. The finished gluten free cake is very moist and slightly denser than the wheat flour version. See notes below for gluten free alterations.
Prep time: 15 minutes, Cook time: 1 hour; Yield 8 servings
1/2 lb rhubarb, fresh or frozen (1 1/2- 2 cups chopped)
200 g. or approximately 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Rinse, dry and chop the rhubarb into 1/2 inch cubes. Ready a 9 inch cake pan by placing a circle of parchment in the bottom and lightly greasing the sides of the pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Use an electric mixer to whip the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Should take about 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs and vanilla. Continue whipping for another 1-2 minutes. You want the batter to fluff up a bit and turn a smooth buttery yellow.
Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk. Begin with 1/3 of flour mixture and mix just enough to combine then add 1/2 of the milk again mixing just enough to combine. Continue adding the flour, milk, flour until the batter is an even texture and color.
Toss the chopped rhubarb with 1 tablespoon of flour. Fold half of the rhubarb into the batter then spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan. Smooth the top so it is roughly even, it can be a little lumpy bumpy and top the cake with the remaining rhubarb.
Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes. Check for doneness after 50 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out sticky continue baking for 5 to 10 additional minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cake to sit in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring the cake to a cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving – several hours if possible.
To make this cake gluten free substitute 180 grams of gluten free all purpose flour. Include 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum if your flour mixture does not include xanthan.
For the gluten free version you may have better results tossing the rhubarb in 1 teaspoon of tapioca flour and 2 teaspoons of all purpose mix.
After baking do not turn the gluten free cake out of the pan to cool. Wait until it reaches room temperature and transfer carefully to your serving plate. For best results serve plated by the slice.
Store both versions of this cake tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.
Approximate Nutrition per Serving: 278 calories, 10 g fat, 114 mg sodium, 42 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 5 g protein, PP = 8