Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake for My Dad's Birthday

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.

Make Cake
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?!


  1. What an awesome looking cake. The rhubarb/orange combo sounds super delish.

  2. I just picked up rhubarb today so I could make this one too :) Your cake is gorgeous!

  3. We had rhubarb growing up also, but I don't think I ate very much of it raw. Your cake is beautiful - love the way it looks and also love how you describe it. I haven't baked anything with rhubarb this year; I'd better hurry if I'm going to catch the season.

  4. THAT looks really good. Haven't had rhubarb in YEARS. Cannot even find it here.

  5. Wow, the different color look just awesome!

  6. This looks wonderful!! Your pictures are drool-worthy!! I only tried rhubarb pie once, but that was all it took! I love it. I need to try using it myself though. Perhaps this is just the recipe I've been looking for! I too LOVE dimension in my desserts! YUM!

  7. Your cake looks beautiful, thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe!

  8. Photos are breathtaking. This is the first time I've seen green rhubarb as a positive. Here via tastespotting. Thanks.

  9. Wow, those colors! The pictures! The recipe!


    Delightful Bitefuls

  10. What a beautiful cake, looks so good!

  11. this looks gorgeous! do you think it might work in a round (or square) cake pan that isn't springform? I'd love to make it, but don't have the $$ to buy a new pan right now. Thanks!

  12. Wow, I love the way the long stalks of rhubarb look in that cake. I've really been enjoying rhubarb on its own this year, it's such a wonderful ingredient.

  13. Stefanie,

    I don't see why a different pan wouldn't work; I actually make most upside down cakes in a cast iron skillet, and they always turn out beautifully. Just make sure you don't wait too long before un-molding it, or the topping will stick to the pan. Let me know how it works out!

  14. Made this cake today hoping to not let my aging farmers market rhubarb go to waste. @stefanie i used a regular 9x1.5 round baking pan and the batter overflowed a bit, leaving the crumb uncentered. perhaps remove a cup of the batter and bake in a ramekin? otherwise ridiculously delicious. thx Sarah!

  15. This looks fantastic! I don't have a stand mixer, will it be OK to do everything by hand with with an electric hand mixer? I don't know much about baking, but this looks divine and I want to try a fun project with my mom while she's visiting!

  16. Liz - Yes, a hand mixer will work just fine!

  17. Sarah, this is gorgeous - beautiful and delicious!

  18. I just bought rhubarb to make the rhubarb free form tarts from Good with the Grain, which I see you are also obsessed with! This rhubarb cake looks beautiful though so I just may be changing my plans...I don't buy rhubarb very often though I used to eat it with sugar when I was little, straight of out my grandparent's garden.

  19. This is absolutely delicious. The only problem I encountered was the juiciness of the rhubarb when I flipped the cake.

  20. Love rhubarb pie, will try the recipe.

  21. I have a huge rhubarb plant in my backyard. I am going to pick some right now and make this cake for my dad for Father's Day. Perfect timing, thanks!

  22. made this last night. turned out great. i've never cooked with rhubarb, but i asked my MIL if we had it in the garden and she produced a few stalks. looking forward to making a few more things with it before it is out of season.

  23. I'm gonna try this with almond extract in the cake instead of the orange...

    Looks gooooooood!

  24. Been a long time maker of rhubarb pies but just saw this cake mentioned on Huffington Post along with the fantastic photos and had to try it. After calling around finally found a market that still had some rhubarb left and I have to say this came out looking and tasting great. It was a hit and will definitely be a keeper. Thanks for sharing it!

  25. There seems to be a discrepancy between the amount of butter called for in the ingredients list and the amount of butter called for in the instructions? How have others reconciled this?

  26. Anonymous - The directions are correct, though you may have missed the first instruction to dot pan with 1/2 stick of butter.

  27. Lovely cake, just needed an ingredient adjustment for me. The first time I made and tasted the cake, there was an aftertaste that reminded me of baking soda. The second time, I replaced the buttermilk with heavy cream. The cake was lighter and there was no aftertaste. The cake is lovely, easy, and tasty!

  28. Beautiful cake.

    Do you know if it's possible to make it the night before serving, or does it need to be served immediately after cooling?


  29. Be certain to place a baking sheet on the rack underneath your cake pan. Mine is apparently not butter-tight, and while it's not yet out of the oven, I'm afraid that burning butter on the bottom of the oven floor may make this lovely cake taste like a campfire! Sadness...

  30. I've made this cake a couple of times with my own twist and it is a winner. I have another recipe for a crumble that included orange zest. It is all good ~ nope it is all delicious!


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