A Favorite Spring Cake
“Lee poured the scalding green tea. He grimaced when Adam put two spoonfuls of sugar in his cup. Adam stirred his tea and watched the sugar crystals whirl and disappear into the liquid.”
Dessert aficionados roughly fall into three categories, always chocolate, lemon first and the insatiable who just crave sweets. I always choose lemon first, which leaves the Mr and picky daughter mystified. They have their eyes on the chocolate. I’m convinced that rhubarb is revered by those who prefer lemon first. Rhubarb is very tangy, even sour, more intense than a well grown Granny Smith apple. With a texture reminiscent of celery rhubarb is easily ignored. I like my rhubarb matched with something sweet, but not so sweet than it overpowers the tangy fresh taste of the rhubarb. If you agree, this is a cake for you. A thick slice of the Rhubarb Almond Cake makes a fine companion for coffee or tea.
I’ve made this cake from Bon Appetit half a dozen times, finding it flexible enough to use different shapes and types of pans and varying the almond component between, blitzed blanched almonds as the original recipe suggests, or taking a short-cut and using almond flour or almond meal. The ingredients don’t need to be weighed, careful measuring will make a favorite spring cake. Taking a few minutes to pick the reddest pieces of rhubarb, measure and cut them for the top of the cake is a simple pleasure. Pushing the stalks deep into the thick batter and topping them with an avalanche of sugar delivers glistening rhubarb. The exterior of the cake is almost caramelized with pleasingly crunchy edges that contrast with the moist rhubarb that fills the interior.
The original recipe calls for the seeds from half of a vanilla bean. Splurge and use the entire bean. Every slice of this cake is filled with the classic flavor pairing of rhubarb and vanilla. Save the pod and make vanilla sugar or vanilla extract. Both are easy, and won’t leave you feeling that real vanilla is too extravagant. If you already have vanilla sugar in your pantry, this is a recipe that would benefit from its’ fragrant use.
Rhubarb can cause havoc in baked goods. It contains a lot of water and can cause baked goods to be overly moist and juicy. Sugar is almost always mixed with the rhubarb since is very tangy. And sugar is hydroscopic, it draws water from the rhubarb. With this recipe all these concerns vanish. The thick cookie like dough, absorbs moisture from the rhubarb. When baking, place the cake on a parchment lined sheet pan to save your oven from any rogue rhubarb juice.
About the almonds, the first two times I made the Rhubarb Almond Cake I followed the original Bon Appetit recipe. I got out my food processor and blitzed blanched almonds with the other dry ingredients before getting out my stand mixer to make the cake batter. All those dirty dishes and making sure I had blanched almonds in the pantry inspired me to try almond flour in the recipe. The cake was wonderful! No food processor to wash or blanched almonds to add to my shopping list. Then as an experiment I tried the cake recipe with almond meal. This version has become my favorite. There is more almond in the cake so the batter does a better job of supporting all the juicy rhubarb. When choosing almonds for the cake, use what you have, almond flour or almond meal, or the balanced almonds. They all will work in this recipe. About the baking pan, it is not necessary to use the 11”x 8″ tart pan, with a removable bottom, from the original recipe. I have used a 13-3/4” x 4-1/2” tart pan, with a removable bottom. There was batter leftover that I baked in a small ceramic pan. A 9″-diameter tart pan with removable bottom, or even a 9” square or round baking pan will work. The cake releases easily from the baking pan.
| Rhubarb Almond Cake adapted from Bon Appetit
|1 lb||trimmed rhubarb stalks|
|3/4C||almond meal or almond flour|
|3/4t||fine grain sea salt|
|1C/8 oz||unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan|
|3/4C||sugar, plus more for the pan and top of cake|
- Heat oven to 350°. Butter a 11” x 8″ tart pan or a 9” tart pan with a removable bottom or use a 9” square or 9” round cake pan. Sprinkle with sugar, tapping out the excess. Line a sheet pan with parchment.
- If the rhubarb is thick, slice it in half lengthwise. Measure and cut pieces for the top of the cake. Slice the remaining rhubarb into 1/3” wide pieces, but no larger than 1/2” wide pieces.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal or flour, baking powder, and salt, making sure no clumps of almond meal or flour remain.
- Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise, cutting through just the top side of the pod. Use the tip of the knife to open the bean and flatten it on the cutting surface. Using the blade of the knife, scrape out the all of the seeds from the interior of the bean. Save the pod to make vanilla sugar or vanilla extract.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter, sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean. Beat on high speed until pale yellow, light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixer bowl as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing to combine the first egg before adding the second egg. Beat until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 4-5 minutes. Stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixer bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, followed by the sour cream. Mix just until the ingredients are combined. The batter will be very thick, similar to cookie dough. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and fold in the sliced rhubarb. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the batter evenly, across the surface of the pan, pushing the dough into the corners. Arrange the rhubarb slices across top the top of the batter. Press the slices down into the dough, just far enough to bury the ends in the batter. As the cake bakes the dough will puff up around the rhubarb slices on top of the cake. Sprinkle the entire cake liberally with sugar.
- Place the cake on the prepared baking sheet and bake until cake is a deep golden brown and the rhubarb on top is soft, 60-70 minutes. When done, the cake will pull away from the edges of the pan. Check the cake after 45 minutes and rotate the pan for even baking. The cake will be ready sooner when baked in a long narrow tart pan, than in a 9” round pan. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and cool before removing from pan.
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