July 20, 2012

Summertime Baking: Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

fleet·ing (flē’tĭng)  adj. Passing quickly; ephemeral

There is the slow, snail-like wait.  Daylight encroaching into darkness at an ever-later hour; the thermostat rising in degrees haltingly like a cranky mid-century oven.  Closets in between sweaters and shorts; shoots barely breaking the soil to reach for the sun.

And then suddenly it's summer - blazingly hot, electric blue-sky summer. The heat blasts at 500˚F, and the days start to get inexplicably shorter, even before the dog days have truly begun.  The flowers wilt in the heat and you do too, cooling off in barely there dresses and flipflops.  Your favourites - the ones that you have waited for with longing and anticipation - make their glorious entrance and just as quickly begin to maddeningly disappear.  Juicy peaches; the season's first cherries and strawberries; asparagus so tender green it makes you weak. 

Here today, gone tomorrow rhubarb

And perhaps most fleetingly of all, ruby red, tangy, tart and slender rhubarb stalks.   While strawberries and rhubarb have had a long love affair with one another, I prefer to give this most ephemeral of vegetables a starring role all of its own.  The taste will linger long after rhubarb pulls up its roots and leaves town. 

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
with slight adaptations, from Melissa Clark, New York Times 
serves 8-10

1¼ c unsalted butter (2½ sticks), at room temperature
1½  pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into ½-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
1 tbsp cornstarch
1½ c granulated sugar plus 2 tbsp
½ c light brown sugar plus 2 tbsp
2 c cake flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
4 large eggs
c sour cream
2 tsp lemon juice

1. Heat oven to 325˚FLine the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sides of the pan. Wrap two layers of foil under the pan, and place it on a baking sheet.

2.  In a medium bowl, mix rhubarb, cornstarch and ½ cup plus 2 tbsp of granulated sugar.

3.  Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

4.  Blend the remaining 1 cup sugar with lemon zest with your fingers until the zest is distributed evenly throughout the sugar.  Set aside.

5.  In a stand mixer, cream 1 c butter for two minutes. Add the lemon zest-sugar mixture and cream together with the butter at medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl periodically.

6.  Add the vanilla bean paste and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the sour cream, and then the lemon juice. 

7.  Turn the mixer to low, and slowly add the flour mixture, ¼ cup at a time, until well combined, scraping down the bowl periodically.  The mixture should be very light and fluffy. Set aside.

5.  Heat all of the brown sugar and remaining ¼ c butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes.

6.  Pour the brown-sugar mixture into the prepared cake pan, then spoon in the rhubarb and its juices. Spoon in the batter so it covers all of the rhubarb, smoothing out the top evenly.

7.  Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  At this stage check for doneness: if the top of the cake is firm and springs back and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, it is done.  In my oven, the cake takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to completely bake, so don't worry about overbaking the cake.

8.  Place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the cake, place a plate on top of the pan and turn it upside-down.

Enjoy with a cold glass of milk and save room for seconds.