Growing up, I used to snack on the rhubarb that grew plentifully in my Iowa backyard. I had quite the affinity for sour things back then, and since I loved raw rhubarb so much it seemed incredibly strange to me to see it in things like pies. Especially when paired with strawberries. Frankly, I found it repulsive. It wasn't until last spring that I ever tried rhubarb in a baked good, and I couldn't have been more wrong about it. I have become obsessed.
I've been picking up hefty bunches of rhubarb every Saturday for the last few weeks, ever since its first appearance at the farmer's market. I've made a few galettes with it - which I haven't posted because they disappeared too quickly! - but decided to branch out this week, so I did a little rhubarb research. I found several recipes I wanted to try - I'll have to double up on my rhubarb purchases to make everything before the season is over - starting with this cake; a perfect choice, since today is my dad's birthday. He still lives in Iowa, so he won't get to taste his birthday cake, but he can at least enjoy looking at it. Actually, I'm not sure if that's nice or just torture...
I've made so many upside down cakes in the last year, and am always excited to find a new and fantastic recipe for one. I love the concept of them, and they are always beautiful and delicious. I love the way the fruit of choice is completely transformed by their long stint of being cooked in sugar and butter. In the case of rhubarb, it becomes tender and buttery with a sweet and wonderful zing, melded with a light caramel flavor. There is no lip-puckering, mouth-watering sour punch that is so often associated with rhubarb.
The cake itself is dense and moist and quite sturdy, with a tight crumb and a light and subtle tang from the buttermilk in the batter. Can you see the flecks of orange zest in the above photo? Who knew that orange and rhubarb were a match made in heaven???
The thing that ties this cake together, and makes it really superb is the crumb bottom. It is a simple crumb topping that is sprinkled on top of the batter before baking, but when you invert the cake, it becomes a crunchy base for the cake. I love having textural differences in my desserts, I don't like eating things that are just soft and mushy. They're too, well, soft and mushy. The crumb bottom completely solves that problem, and adds such a delicious dimension, I'll be adding it to all of my upside down cakes from now on!
In addition to the way this cake tastes, I love the way it looks. That's the great thing about upside down cakes - they need no adornment once they come out of the oven! This recipe has you cut the rhubarb in long pieces - about 3 inches long - and lay them in the pan all going in the same direction. The result is a beautiful pink and green design that looks almost like an abstract watercolor painting. Almost too pretty to eat! Though that didn't stop me from having a slice for (second) breakfast...
Happy birthday, Dad!
Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart
For the Crumb Topping
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup white wheat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Cake
1 pound firm rhubarb stalks, ends trimmed and cut at a very sharp angle into 3 inch long pieces
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened, divided
1 1/2 cups white wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly grated zest from one medium-sized orange
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350. Line bottom of 9 inch spring form cake pan with parchment, butter sides of pan and parchment, dot bottom of pan with 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of the butter, set aside.
Make Crumb Topping
Combine melted butter, flour, sugar and salt in a small bowl and stir until combined. Refrigerate until needed.
In a medium sized bowl, toss rhubarb with 3/4 cup of the sugar. Set aside. In another medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat remaining stick of butter and cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add orange zest and juice and beat to combine. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, mixing until just combined. Toss rhubarb one more time, then lay pieces in pan as closely together as you can without overlapping too much. Lay them in rows all going in the same direction. Pour remaining sugar from bowl over rhubarb. Pour batter in pan, smoothing the top, then sprinkle crumb mixture over batter as evenly as you can, making crumbs of all different sizes. Bake for about an hour, or until a tester inserted intp center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake, and invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely - don't invert onto serving plate here, or your beautiful, crunchy crumbs will become soggy, and we can't have that, can we?!