Some food, some drink.
Gratuitous use of a Dessert Vegetable: Rhubarb Snack Cake with Strawberry Rhubarb Sauce.
It's time to go back to my modest community cookbook archive to find something to do with my garden-grown rhubarb surplus. The snack cake recipe I unearthed looked pretty good as wrote, but with a little hacking, it's been transformed into a dessert that all but guarantees folks will come back for seconds. A good half-pound of fresh rhubarb helps to keep this cake tender and moist; and just in case that's not enough for ya, I've gone and upped the rhubarb ante and paired another 8 ounces with some fresh strawberries in the form of a tangy sauce. The only thing missing here is a big ol' scoop of ice cream (hey, I can't do it all).
Last year I planted 6 rhubarb rhizomes, only to watch 4 of 'em bite the dust. I really wasn't sure what to think at the time, but now that we're into year two of my garden-grown rhubarb, it looks like the surviving pair of plants is about all I can handle. I've already razed my rhubarb this year for the sake of pie and muffins; and in turn, I've been rewarded with a second round to play with. This time, I knew I wanted to do a baked good, and I wanted to keep it simple. Not being all that inspired, I did what I always do when I'm stumped, and grabbed a pile of community cookbooks.
As I was really craving some instant rhubarb gratification, the simplicity of the snack cake recipe I discovered in a community cookbook from 1982 called Great Cooks of the Breadbasket really appealed to my impatient side. After reading the recipe once, I started contemplating adjustments. It went without saying that the margarine would have to go, and in my experience with dessert cakes containing vegetables, it was a pretty safe bet that I could bring at least 50% more rhubarb to the party and still have a moist cake that wasn't going to need to be cooked so long as to be tough after it cooled. The original recipe also called for topping the cake with cinnamon and sugar, but I figured that the cinnamon, and maybe a little nutmeg would better serve the cause if it were all put in the batter. And while there's never anything wrong with sprinkling a little sugar atop your baked goods, using demerara sugar instead is almost always a better idea. Even so, I knew this dessert could handle even more rhubarb; so to seal the deal, I whipped up a rhubarb strawberry sauce as an excuse to throw a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the bowl as well.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
For the cake, preheat oven to 375F. In a stand mixer cream butter and brown sugar, then add egg, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla and continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture lightens in color and in texture (about 2-3 minutes). Slow mixer to a stir; add buttermilk, baking soda and flour. Stir until integrated, then add the fresh rhubarb. Once the rhubarb is mixed in, spread the batter evenly into a lightly-greased 13x9 inch pan. Top with the demerara sugar and pop into the oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.
For the sauce (and you can do this while the cake bakes), combine all ingredients into a small saucepan over medium heat. When the mixture just comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally so as to make sure it doesn't burn. Sauce will thicken as it cools.
To serve, cut you a big ol' slice of cake, set it next to a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and top it with the sauce.
- The nice thing about creaming brown sugar into butter and eggs is that there's no mistaking when you're done. After combining the butter and sugar, a couple of minutes more at medium speed in the stand mixer will take that dark brown color a few shades lighter than what you started with, and the graininess of the sugar will be nearly non-existent.
- When the buttermilk goes in, it looks like it's all gonna fall apart. Don't panic! If you follow it up immediately with the flour, everything will right itself. If you're not keen to live on the edge, you could alternately add the buttermilk and flour in parts (if you don't have a stand mixer this is probably a better idea anyway).
- Everyone has their opinions on bakeware; whether it be casseroles, snack cakes, loaves of bread, or pies, I myself am keen on Pyrex. I bet I use my 13x9 inch pan as much as my cast iron. It does a fantastic job of transferring heat, and who doesn't like to be able to see thru the pan to know if what you're cooking's really done?
- As you're just sitting around the kitchen anyway, don't you think it'd be a good idea to make your sauce while the cake bakes? If you're serving immediately after the cake cools, this will give the sauce just enough time to thicken properly.
- While we're talking about sauce, the amount listed here assumes judicious use. If you know you're gonna get crazy with the topping, or just want a little extra to stir into your yogurt and granola later, you better just go ahead and double it.
I can't speak for your community cookbook collection, but despite their significance in the realm of cultural history, most of the volumes I have from the last end of the 20th century are a bit lackluster where variety and ingredients are concerned. I've got books that turn from a tome to a short story if you exclude all the recipes that don't include canned soup and yellow cake mix somewhere; so when I'm thumbing thru a community cookbook and see a recipe with a real ingredient list, I always take a second look.
In this case of this snack cake, I'm glad I did. The toffee notes from the brown sugar and that slightly caramelized demerara topping are the perfect counterpoint to the tangy-tart rhubarb, and the aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg marry those contrasting flavors nicely. The extra vegetable also keeps this cake incredibly moist. And while the sauce might seem a bit gratuitous to those who aren't friends of rhubarb, it is a sauce that plays to the side of something tart more than sweet, so I think it work rather nicely with all that sugar in the cake itself.
Look, I know it's summer, and it's probably hot out; and given the choice, you'd much rather be cooking outside. But, if you don't mind heating up the house a little in the morning for a fabulous and simple-to-make dessert to complete what's coming off the grill in the afternoon, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option.
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