Thursday, 21 February 2008

Rhubarb Crumble Cake

Until a few years ago, rhubarb was a stranger to me. The word, the sight of the plant, the tang of the taste, were all unfamiliar. I blame my culinarily sheltered childhood. Mr A&N, on the other hand, having grown up in God's own rhubarb triangle, can't hear the rumblings of the syllable 'rhuuuu' without getting a tear in his eye.

I was skeptical about its worth. It's a strange looking character, growing like giant fronds of swiss chard and thriving in the winter. "But what does it taste like?" I curiously asked the Yorkshire-based A&N clan. "Oh, awful in its natural state" was the universal response. Bitter. Stringy. The leaves are poisonous. This was sounding like one of Those Very British (quirky) Things. "So how do you eat it?" I wondered, skeptical facade uncracked. Boiled in tons and tons of sugar, I was told, which makes it taste "wonderful". It seemed an obvious truth to me that anything boiled in its own weight of sugar would wind up tasting pretty good, but they were adamant I needed to allow rhubarb into my life.

With the steady drip-drip of rhubarb each winter, it turns out I was wrong to doubt the goodness of rhubarb. It is tangy (to put it mildly) but part of the joy comes with balancing that with other flavors, either sweet or savory like Freddie just tried in The Great Big Vegetable Challenge. With its improbable pink color and its love of frost, it is a ray of brightness in the winter gloom. Forced rhubarb in particular is a funny creature, grown and picked in dim candle light since anything brighter would stop its growth. It's also very healthy, having only 7 calories per 100 grams and is full of vitamin C and calcium. I'm such a convert that I'm being tempted by the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival from the March 7 - 8.

I knew I'd find some forced rhubarb at my favorite British produce stand at my local market, and so I tried to think of the best use for it. My friend Lorraine who lives in Oman very generously mailed me some Madagascan vanilla pods she picked up cheaply in her market (markets are wonderful things) so I was eager to use those at the same time. Rhubarb with vanilla custard is an obvious combination, but I felt more in a cakey mood. Cue the rhubarb cake, with a light vanilla bod, mushy tart middle layer of rhubarb, and a crunchy nutty crumble. It was, in a word, wonderful, just as I was promised rhubarb would to be.

Rhubarb Crumble Cake (lightly adapted from the National Trust recipe)
Makes an 8 inch cake

  • 3 oz butter
  • 3 oz caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 oz self-raising flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla essences
  • 2-3 Tbs milk
  • 1lb rhubarb
  • 1 Tbsp demerara sugar

For the topping:

  • 2 oz butter
  • 3 oz plain flour
  • 1 oz caster sugar
  • handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
  1. Heat the oven to GM5/190’C/375’F. Grease and line an 8’’ round cake tin.
  2. Cream together the butter and the sugar, beat in the eggs and vanilla (either the essence or, if using a pod, split it open and scrape out the sticky bean goo inside and add it to the sugar mixture).
  3. Fold in the flour and salt.
  4. Add enough milk to give a dropping consistency(about 2-3 Tbs).
  5. Slice the rhubarb into 1’’ pieces and toss with the demerara sugar.
  6. Pour the cake base into the tin, and cover it in the rhubarb-sugar mixture.
  7. Make the topping by rubbing the butter into the flour and then stirring in the sugar and. Follow by tossing in the chopped walnuts
  8. Sprinkle the crumble topping evenly over the rhubarb, pressing down lightly.
  9. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes until the cake feels firm on top.


Patricia Scarpin said...

I have never tried rhubarb - it costs a small fortune here. This cake looks delicious!

Tiina said...

Oh, lovely, lovely recipe! I'm a great fan of anything with rhubarb, I even eat it raw! Hmm, I actually still have some in the freezer from last summer...this would be the perfect recipe to use them to! By the way, Annemarie, I've TAGGED you!:) See for more info.


Emily said...

Rhubarb is so darn pretty.

I've seen a lot of rhubarb posts lately! I've only tried it once, I think. We see it here in strawberry-rhubarb pies, quite a bit.
I think this sounds delicious!

jasmine said...

My neighbour used to grow rhubarb and give us rhubarb pies. I must admit that I've never cooked with it, but oh, that colour makes me want to rectify that.


test it comm said...

I enjoy rhubarb though I do not seem to get to have it all that often. That rhubarb crumble cake looks amazing!

Anonymous said...

I love rhubarb and am delighted to see a convert! Lovely lovely recipe. Must go check the upper veg patch and see if our forced rhubarb is ready yet. Will try the cake asap.

Anonymous said...

I love rhubarb and am delighted to see a convert! Lovely lovely recipe. Must go check the upper veg patch and see if our forced rhubarb is ready yet. Will try the cake asap.

Anonymous said...

I found your site via Divine Domesticity. I used to make a rhubarb cake all the time. I lost my recipe and the place where I got the rhubarb isn't an option anymore.
I may have to research and see about growing it myself. The cake looks delicious :)

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

I love rhubarb. I used to grow it in my garden..or should I say it grew itself :D

Kajal@aapplemint said...

Annemarie rhubarb is still a stranger to me. This typically British produce is very difficult to find in the countries i live. It looks so fantastic and i've read so much about it, i cant wait to try some.Your cake tempts me even more now.

Anonymous said...

This sadly reminds us of our two winter attempts at growing 3 rhubarb plants. We have a monstrous white dog that loves rhubard more than we do and devours the plant before it even gets to leaf out. Ahhh!
We'll have to resort to store bought ones for this great recipe!

Annemarie said...

Hi Patricia - I suppose if it needs to be imported it will be a luxury item. Shame, though!

Hi Tiina - You are a very brave woman to eat it raw. Thanks for the tag - just did a meme recently but it's nice to be thought of.

Hi Emiline - it *is* very pretty, isn't it? And there's nothing wrong with having attractive food. :)

Hi Jasmine - I know, the color really belies it's winter fruit/vegetable status, doesn't it?

Hi Kevin - do give it a go if you're tempted. Very simple but it disappeared within hours of making it.

Hi Gillie - very jealous of your rhubarb patch. Hope you get to put it to good use!

Hi Anonymous - Welcome! Shame you don't have a rhubarb option any longer. I'm very tempted to grow it too, though - seems like a very sensible thing to do.

Hi Bellini - Yes, I hear it's very easy to grow - just the kind o thing I like to have in my garden!

Hi Kajal - I suppose living in warm countries isn't a likely place to pick up rhubarb in the markets. If only it traveled well, I'd send you a whole bunch in the post for you to do what you like with!

Hi White on Rice - Hee hee, your dog's actions remind me of the other half of the story of when Mr A&N's family were telling me about rhubarb. They grew it themselves, but it seems their cat liked to use it as it's peeing patch. Their mother never told them and would just boil it twice as long. The children were horrified retrospectively. :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I love rhubarb usually with strawberries, which is a classic combination in the US. This cake is just so pretty, I can imagine it for a Sunday brunch or a shower or a tea party. I'm definitely trying this when rhubarb comes into season. Thanks, annemarie!

Tiina said...

Annemarie, I used this recipe today. I hade to improvise a little, as I only had ordinary sugar and I don't think sr flour is sold here at all, at least I have never seen it anywhere, so I added some baking powder. The cake is very tasty, though! Just ate some with whipped cream and now I'm absolutety full!! :)Thanks again for posting this lovely recipe!


Anonymous said...

Hm, I have never tried rhubarb because it's not sold here. The cake looks so pretty though!

Elle said...

It will soon be rhubarb season here. This is a recipe I'll be sure to make once it is a little less expentsive. Love the mushy rhubarb in the center and the crumb topping.Thanks!

Pille said...

Absolutely. Love. Rhubarb. I think it'll be available in early April here - cannot wait!!

Eric said...

Looks fantastic, annemarie. It's my first time to your blog, so hello! I'm always looking for new things to do with rhubarb, and I just found one, thank you.

I have a baked eggs and rhubarb recipe you might like.

Annemarie said...

Hi Susan - Yes, it's definitely a SUnday-lunch-with-tea sort of cake; petite and pretty but packs a lot of flavor in.

Hi Tiina - how exciting! Glad to hear you enjoyed it. :)

Hi Lore - Sorry to hear you can't enjoy the pleasures of rhubarb (even if they're acquired pleasures!).

Hi Elle - The mushy rhubarb bit was great; it made the cake bit very moist, and was excellent against the crumbly topping. Enjoy your rhubarb season!

Hi Pille - Well, I look forward to your rhubarb season so I can read about the clever things you do with that lovely pink stalk.

Hi Eric - Welcome, and thanks for stopping by. I would *love* to hear about what you've been up to with an egg and some rhubarb. Off to your blog to poke around and see if I can get to the bottom of that flavor-combination intrigue...

Eric said...

Annemarie, alas, the rhubard baked egg recipe isn't visible on the website.

* Saute onion in butter
* Add rhubarb (dice it first)
* Add maple syrup
*Transfer all to a buttered casserole dish or clay pot, spread it out evenly
* In a blender mix 6 eggs, a glop of Dijon mustard, teaspoon of apricot jam. Pour this mixture over the rhubarb/onion mixture, cover tightly with foil, and bake 25 minutes.

It's great!

Annemarie said...

Eric, I wouldn't have believed that combination of ingredients could produce something wonderful, but I'm willing to have faith. Here's hoping the market tomorrow has some more fresh rhubarb, since I'm now itching to try this. Will be sure to report back the results.

Helene said...

The caske looks delicious! I love crumb cakes and I love rhubarb....gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to try this. Rhubarb grows all year round in our vege patch - I give it away. The more we pick, the more it grows! Could be the wonderful wonderful soil, could be the Aussie sun......


Megan Lynch said...

Thanks for posting this recipe. I was looking for directions on how to use the vanilla bean and I think they were accidentally left out. Can you let us know how that is used in the recipe? (Too late for me tonight, I already made it without the's in the oven right now)

Annemarie said...

Hi Megan- Sorry for the omission - can't believe it's taken this time for someone to spot it! The extra line is added in now to the recipe. Hope the cake was still tasty, though the vanilla does add an extra something. Thanks again for the message. :)

Megan Lynch said...

Thanks muchly, A! It turned out really lovely with a great consistency and texture. I used chopped apricot kernels rather than walnuts because I didn't have walnuts to hand. I also mixed strawberries with the rhubarb because I didn't grow up with rhubarb and am wearing training wheels 'til I get up to speed. :)

Clair said...

This is a fabulous cake! I've made it five times in two weeks.....mmmm totally yum!
Many thanks.