On Fridays I give myself permission to make dessert. A whole weekend lies ahead, there may be a friend or two to save me from eating the entire thing myself and it’s entirely pleasurable to have the smell of say, vanilla or pineapple suffusing the home. I love fruit in my desserts, and a cake baked with fresh fruit tastes terribly exotic to me. It holds the promise of summer, of warmth, of succulent produce.
Which brings me to rhubarb. I am new to rhubarb, but I’m seduced by the bright red stalks tied into neat bundles at Sobseys’ store. Recipes pop up here and there, and I’m particularly drawn to Melissa Clark’s rhubarb upside down cake. I want to make her cake, but I’m overwhelmed by the desire for an even simpler recipe.
I crave the comfort of familiarity. Each cake that I make should be loosely based on the same idea – a stick of butter, a cup or so of flour, a cup of sugar and about two or three eggs. There should be a flavor ingredient or two – here it’s the zest of an orange (Martha Stewart), although lemon would work well too (Melissa). I don’t add vanilla essence to this cake as Melissa does, but have a suspicion that it will make the cake taste even better. And one new ingredient is allowed — in this recipe it happens to be sour cream.
The cake that emerges from this experiment is beautiful. It’s tart, sweet, moist, satisfyingly dense, and topped with an even layer of melting, mouth puckering, pretty pink rhubarb. It can be served with whipped heavy cream or vanilla ice cream.
Rhubarb upside down cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
zest of 1 orange and 1 tbsp of fresh orange juice
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder, aluminum free
1 pinch salt
1 lb rhubarb
½ cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsps butter, chopped into small cubes
1. Wash the rhubarb and chop into 1 inch pieces cut on the diagonal. In a bowl, toss the rhubarb with the brown sugar and set aside.
2. Heat the oven to 350˚. Butter a 9 inch round pan and dot the pan evenly with small cubes from the 2 tbsps of butter. Separately, combine flour, salt and baking powder lightly with a whisk and keep aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric beater on the lowest setting, until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the eggs slowly, one at a time. Add the zest and orange juice. Turn off the beater, and put aside.
4. Gently, with a spatula, add in the flour mixture in thirds, alternating with the sour cream.
5. Place the chopped rhubarb into the prepared pan in as flat a layer as possible, add the batter, and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour, until the cake is golden brown and a knife emerges clean from the center. The sides will start to pull away from the pan.
6. Cool in the pan for about ten minutes (not more) on a wire rack. Turn the cake out of the pan.