New Recipe: Tart rhubarb adds blaze of color, flavor to not-too-sweet cake

I like strawberry-rhubarb pie, a discovery made a few years back when a booth at the Lincoln Square farmers’ market was out of strawberry pie but still had strawberry-rhubarb available. Strawberry-rhubarb jam? Also tasty, with the tang of the rhubarb cutting some of the sweetness of the strawberries-and-sugar mixture.

But I’ve never tried baking or cooking with rhubarb. Until now.

I was at the grocery on Saturday, buying last-minute ingredients for Easter lunch, when I spotted these bright red stalks amid the greenery in the produce aisle. I had no idea what I would do with it, but it was pretty and I wanted it. It’s a concept I more often use on my quilting-fabric stash than on produce, but why mess with what works?

I didn’t want too much, though. The stalks were long and two seemed like more than enough for whatever I (didn’t yet) have planned. (I was vaguely leaning toward a venture into strawberry-rhubarb pie territory, since I also had a carton of strawberries in my cart, but that idea was nebulous, at best.) When I got to the register, those two stalks weighed in at all of 0.18 of a pound.

I carried it home, found a spot in my fridge for them — at an angle; did I mention they were long? — and went about my weekend.

Then Monday came, I opened my inbox and spotted an email from The Spice House in Chicago, complete with a recipe for a rhubarb cake that called for two stalks of rhubarb.

I took it as a sign.

As I’m prone to do, I tweaked the recipe a bit. Instead of cutting the rhubarb into bite-size pieces, I almost (but not quite) diced it. What little I know about rhubarb includes a) it has a reputation for being tough and stringy, and b) my favorite strawberry-rhubarb pie uses small pieces of rhubarb while my least-favorite uses large chunks.

My spice cabinet contains neither mace nor cardamon, and I’m not entirely sure I want to change that. After consulting with a friend who not only bakes with rhubarb frequently but actually grows her own in her backyard, I decided to keep the called-for ginger, skip the mace and cardamon and sub in cinnamon and nutmeg in their place.

I also skipped the almond extract, which can seem both overpowering and fake to my taste buds. Not wanting to entirely lose the almond flavor, though, I switched out part of the all-purpose flour in favor of almond flour.

The result was a lovely, single-layer cake that was moist, flavorful and not too sweet when there’s already plenty of Easter candy still sitting on the dining room table. I’d serve this cake for dessert at dinner, eat it for breakfast or have it as an afternoon snack, straight out of the oven.


Rhubarb Cake

¾ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup almond flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

2 eggs

1 cup sugar, plus 1-2 tablespoons for rhubarb

¼ cup melted butter, plus more for cake pan

⅓ cup milk

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 large stalks rhubarb

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a 9-inch round cake pan with butter and flour.

Slice rhubarb stalks into pieces slightly larger than a dice and sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.

In a small bowl, sift together flours, baking powder and spices.

In a large bowl, beat 2 eggs with 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Add almond extract, melted butter and milk and stir until well mixed. Stir in flour mixture and stir until smooth.

Pour batter into cake pan and scatter the rhubarb pieces over the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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