Monday, May 29, 2017

Old Fashioned Rhubarb Pudding Cake

I don’t think I knew anything about this “old fashioned” way of making a rhubarb cake until I found this recipe on the information superhighway. It’s kind of cool, though, and really delicious. It’s also pretty quick and easy to throw together with, as long as you have access to plenty of rhubarb like I do, common ingredients that are likely to be in the average baker’s pantry.

This cake starts with a layer of chopped rhubarb in the bottom of a baking dish. That gets covered with a very simple batter, which in turn gets covered with an abundant topping of sugar and cornstarch. It’s when you pour boiling water over that topping, and then bake your creation, that the magic happens. The top of the cake gets a thin but crunchy sugary coating, and the bottom gets a pleasantly gooey and pudding-like rhubarb layer.

That boiling water step in the recipe is a totally genius contribution to the culinary world. I can’t help but wonder exactly how such a process evolved in the common-sense kitchens of yore, perhaps from pudding to cake/cobbler and back again. It really does work as a means to make something delightful in texture and just a bit different than some other cake with fruit in it.

I think this cake could be made with other fruits, and if you are thinking in the cobbler range of concoctions, you might be on the right track: berries, peaches, plums or cherries for example. In fact, this does resemble a cobbler when it’s being made, but I find the cake layer to be softer and probably sweeter than the biscuit-like toppings of cobblers.

I love the sugar-crunch top of this cake, and the sweet-tart pudding layer of the rhubarb, so I’m going to continue baking it this way for a while. It’s a small and fairly light cake that disappears quickly among rhubarb dessert enthusiasts. I’ve already made it twice (largely because we ate the first one before I could snap some photos), and it was perfectly delicious both times. The topping does soften within a day or so of baking, but it stays delicious. Exciting, even! At least I’m excited about another satisfying way to enjoy rhubarb!

Rhubarb Pudding Cake

2 cups chopped rhubarb
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1 ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2/3 cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray or grease it with butter or oil. Spread the rhubarb evenly over the bottom of the pan.

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, or in the microwave if you prefer. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and ¾ cup sugar. Whisk together. Set aside.

4. In another medium-size bowl, combine the melted butter, milk, vanilla and almond extracts. Whisk together until smooth. The butter may re-solidify, but that’s okay.

5. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Spread this batter over the rhubarb in the baking pan. The batter will be thick and will just cover the rhubarb.

6. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 cup sugar and cornstarch. Sprinkle evenly over the batter in the pan. Pour the boiling water evenly over the sugar mixture.

7. Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the rhubarb layer is bubbly. Cool completely.

Makes 6-8 dessert servings.

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