I was a latecomer to rhubarb. I never ate it growing up, and then when I was all grown and buying groceries myself I still had no idea what to make of it. It was unclear to me whether it was a fruit or a vegetable, and whatever it was you couldn't just pick up and eat it, like an orange or a carrot. It required advance knowledge of what to do and I just didn’t have it. Occasionally when travelling, I’d encounter it in pie form – rhubarb apple, strawberry rhubarb… it seemed like a sort of also-ran, always paired with something else, not good enough to have a vehicle of its own. It also had a disconcerting resemblance to celery. And who wants to eat celery pie? So I continued in my ignorance. But this all changed when I came across this recipe. Maybe it was just the name (who wouldn’t immediately feel a need for something called snacking cake?), maybe I was procrastinating about something else I had to do that day, but all of a sudden I was motivated to understand rhubarb. It turns out it’s not that complicated. You just add sugar and suddenly – or slowly, in this case, as it bakes in the oven – it transforms from a stiff, stringy stalk into a jewel-toned jam with a pleasantly tart kick, which here nestles perfectly between a light, cakey base and a dense crumb topping. I won’t ever underestimate it again.
Rhubarb Snacking Cake
From my all-time favourite food blog, Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen. As with most of Deb’s recipes, there’s not a thing I’d change about it.
This cake is brilliant for feeding a crowd – it’s baked in a shallow tray so is easily sliced up into squares, or rectangles, as many as needed. It’s perfectly great just as it is, but a dollop of cream is always a welcome addition.
1 1/4 pound (565 grams) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch lengths on the diagonal
1 1/3 cup (265 grams) sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice (zest your lemon first before you cut it)
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups (165 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup (80 grams) sour cream
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces, or 55 grams) unsalted butter, melted
Preheat your oven to 350 deg F.
Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x13-inch baking pan with butter or a nonstick cooking spray, then line the bottom with parchment paper, extending the lengths up two sides like a sling.
First the cake: Stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and 2/3 cup sugar and set aside. Beat butter, remaining sugar and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at at time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Whisk together flour, baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon table salt and ground ginger together in a small bowl. Add one-third of this mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Continue, adding half the sour cream, the second third of the flour mixture, the remaining sour cream, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.
Dollop batter over prepared pan, then use a spatula to spread the cake into an even, thin layer. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the cake, spreading it into an even layer.
Now the crumb: Whisk the flour, brown sugar, table salt and cinnamon together, then stir in the melted butter with a spoon or fork. Scatter evenly over rhubarb layer.
Bake cake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. It’s done when it’s golden on top and a tester comes out clean from the wet cake batter below. Cool completely in the pan on a rack.
Cut the two exposed sides of the cake free of the pan, if needed, then use the parchment sling to remove the cake from the pan. Cut into 2-inch squares or whatever size takes your fancy.