Rhubarb Cake

Season: Spring / Summer | Active Time: 30 minutes | Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, plus time to cool | Difficulty: 2 (Easy)

I am a rhubarb person, but I know some people find it overrated. I imagine—and I’m speculating here—that rhubarb haters see it only as a harbinger of spring and not as an objectively tasty produce item. I couldn’t disagree more, and in fact I love the puckeringly tart and subtly vegetal flavor that the long, shiny, ruby-red stalks bring to sweets. Whereas so many desserts just feature rhubarb on top for decoration, this recipe incorporates a half pound cooked down into mush and folded into the batter, plus more on top, giving it the flavor of rhubarb throughout—perfect for all my rhubarb people out there.

Makes 1 standard loaf

Special Equipment: 4½ × 8½-inch loaf pan, measured from the top

1 pound (454g) rhubarb stalks

½ teaspoon baking soda

Butter and demerara sugar for the pan

1¾ cups all-purpose flour (8 oz / 228g) ②

2½ teaspoons baking powder (0.35 oz / 10g)

¾ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

1¼ cups granulated sugar ③ (8.8 oz / 250g)

1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz / 113g), melted and cooled

2 large eggs (3.5 oz / 100g)

1½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest

⅓ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt (2.8 oz / 80g)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Demerara sugar, for sprinkling the top

Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom and sides of the loaf pan with butter. Line the bottom and two longer sides with a piece of parchment paper, leaving an overhang of several inches on each side. Butter the parchment paper, then sprinkle demerara sugar inside the pan, shaking it to coat the bottom and sides, and set the pan aside.

Prepare the rhubarb: Select the nicest, thinnest stalks of rhubarb and trim them to lengths of about 8½ inches until you have 4 or 5 pieces that length. If only some or none of the stalks are very thin, split 1 or 2 stalks lengthwise. Weigh the pieces: You should have about 4 ounces (113g)—remove or add accordingly! Set the trimmed stalks aside.

Make the rhubarb mush: Chop all of the remaining rhubarb into ½-inch pieces. Transfer two-thirds (8 oz / 227g) to a small saucepan and set the remaining one-third (4 oz / 113g) aside to fold into the batter later. Add 1 tablespoon water to the saucepan and cook the chopped rhubarb over medium heat, stirring often and mashing with the back of a wooden spoon, until the pieces have completely broken down into a smooth mixture that resembles applesauce, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely (you should have about ⅔ cup [5.8 oz / 165g]).

Once the rhubarb mixture is cool, thoroughly stir the baking soda into the rhubarb (it will foam and turn a grayish tinge, which is normal). This will neutralize some of the acid and help the cake rise more predictably. Set the mixture aside.

Mix the dry ingredients: In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt to combine. Set aside.

Mix the wet ingredients: In a large bowl, vigorously whisk the granulated sugar, melted butter, eggs, and orange zest until the mixture is thick and light, about 1 minute. Whisk in the yogurt, vanilla, and rhubarb mush until smooth.

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry: Scrape the rhubarb mixture into the bowl with the flour mixture and whisk just until the dry ingredients disappear and the batter is evenly mixed. Switch to a flexible spatula and fold the reserved 4 ounces (113g) chopped rhubarb into the batter.

Fill the pan and bake: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Arrange the reserved rhubarb stalks over the top of the batter in parallel lines. Sprinkle the top generously with demerara sugar and bake, reducing the oven temperature to 325°F after 60 minutes, until the top is golden and crisp and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 80 to 90 minutes total. ④ Tent the top of the cake with a piece of foil if it starts to darken beyond a deep golden brown.

Cool and unmold the cake: Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Cut along the short sides of the pan to release the cake and use the parchment to lift the cake from the pan. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

The cake, well wrapped and stored at room temperature, will keep up to 5 days.

① Try to pick rhubarb stalks that are very firm and stiff (not flabby), dark red, and blemish-free. I like the more tender and flavorful thin stalks, but any size or color will work great.

② Stick with all-purpose flour in this recipe. Swapping in a whole-grain or whole wheat flour will make the loaf too dense.

③ Don’t be alarmed by the amount of sugar in this recipe. It’s needed to balance out the tartness of the rhubarb; the final flavor of the cake is not overly sweet.

④ Err on the side of baking the loaf more rather than less. It’s an extremely moist cake, and underbaking it even slightly could cause it to fall a bit as it cools (though it will still taste great).

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