A Rhubarb/Baking Challenge

I’m not good at baking. I’m not good at rhubarb. This recipe should have been a total disaster.

A little bit about my cooking style: I am not precise. The reason I cook more meals and less baked goods is because I like to taste as I go. My measurements are lazy, I don’t like to sift, and I’m too anxious to not open the oven when things are in there “rising.”

So it must have been fate when, the day before my first CSA delivery of the season, and my first dealings with rhubarb since last season, I spotted this recipe on the always trusty Smitten Kitchen site. Rhubarb snacking cake? I’m not going to say I was excited. But I was willing to give it a shot.

This was going to take some good effort on my part. First, it involved baking, and baker-like tools. Fortunately, my sister-in-common-law has a Kitchenaid Classic mixer and I happened to be housesitting for the week. Second, I was going to attempt a vegan version. Third, I was trying this at night. Like, close to midnight.

This is what my CSA delivery looked like earlier in the day:

CSA Vegetables

With kale, arugula and Japanese salad turnips in my belly, I prepared myself to take on the rhubarb. And the baking.

My hopes were dashed just a few steps into the process. I didn’t ground my flaxmeal enough, and now my “eggs” had specks of flax seed in them. I also had never used a stand-up mixer before. Was I doing this right? Is this right?


I forged ahead. Having received a lot of strawberries with my vegetables, I decided to throw them in with the macerating (in lemon and sugar) rhubarb. This led to some bright red, excess liquid. This couldn't possibly be right. 

Rhubarb and Strawberries

I spread the batter into the bottom of a 9x13 pan, and the rhubarb and strawberries on top of that. I considered mopping up the extra liquid with some paper towels, but decided against it. In my head, I had already screwed this up.

The crumb mixture? Now that was easy to make (high five!) and just enough to scatter evenly over the rhubarb layer.

Rhubarb Snacking Cake Setup

Into the oven for an hour. With fingers crossed, I set the timer and extended my bedtime to 2am. (Yes, it took me that long to make. I’m a slow baker.)

About 30 minutes in, and the kitchen started to smell good. Very good. I did not open the oven door, but I did turn the oven light on and things, surprisingly, were looking... right.

I fought every urge to taste the cake warm out of the oven, left the pan to cool overnight, and went to bed. The moment of truth would have to wait until morning.

Fast forward six hours, and this is what awaited me. Breakfast!

Rhubarb Snacking Cake

Wow. It was good… really, really good. A thin layer of moist and tender cake, fragrant and laced with subtle hints of ginger and lemon zest, supported a sweet center (sweeter than the original recipe intended, due to my addition of strawberries, but not enough to totally overwhelm the tartness of the rhubarb). Here and there, that jammy juiciness I thought would be the demise of the recipe oozed down into the cake. It was pretty, and worked perfectly. A cinnamon-spiked brown sugar crumble topped it all off.

Rhubarb Snacking Cake

I have since “snacked” on this cake about five times; before dinner, after dinner, on its own and with cashew ice cream for dessert. I had it for breakfast this morning, again. There is still plenty left to share with friends tonight. I think, if you have rhubarb, or have access to rhubarb, you might want to make this, too. Deb, of Smitten Kitchen, said it would be her single-layer cake of the season, to be welcomed at picnics and potlucks all summer long. She wasn’t lying.

And that’s why I leave you in her very capable hands when it comes to actually baking this. Because this post isn’t really a recipe post, as there is no recipe (of mine). It’s more of my experience with a recipe. I couldn’t explain the directions any better than Deb does, and am happy to leave this one to her expertise. Again, the original recipe is here.

For my vegan friends, or friends with strawberries, here are the adjustments I made:

For the cake:
I used about 2 cups of rhubarb, trimmed and cut as called for in the recipe, and less than one cup of sliced strawberries. To compensate for the addition of strawberries, I reduced the amount of sugar, stirring just 1/2 cup into the strawberry/rhubarb mixture, and using 1/3 cup in the batter (this is 1/2 cup less than the original recipe).

I used Earth Balance Original soy butter (and reduced the amount of salt in the cake from 3/4 to 1/4 teaspoon) and used flax eggs instead of real eggs. I feel very strongly about the right way to make flax eggs (as seen in my French toast pancakes post) and highly recommend you follow these instructions when making your own. Nothing compares when vegan baking.

For the sour cream, I subbed in Tofutti’s Better Than Sour Cream.

For the crumb topping:
I again used the Earth Balance soy butter, and added the smallest pinch of salt (instead of the larger pinch the recipe calls for).

Ta-da! Enjoy. (And one last thanks to Smitten Kitchen for helping me like rhubarb, and maybe even baking.)

Rhubarb Snacking Cake

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