Managing the Chatter

Spring has stumbled upon our doorstep. I know this for a fact because rhubarb has been popping up at the farmer’s market two weeks in a row, and each time I visit I ask the vendors anxiously how long it’ll be there. Four more weeks? Maybe five? Last year I bought so much that we ended up freezing quite a bit to use in pies, muffins and scones. I don’t often have this stock-up mentality, but when it comes to rhubarb I find that it’s fleeting and always disappears before I’ve had a chance to truly enjoy it. Fully.

In addition to shopping for rhubarb and hosting our friends from Eugene, flipping through Pema Chodron’s Taking the Leap kept me occupied last weekend. Chodron is an American Buddhist and writes a lot about becoming comfortable in our own skin. In this book she discusses a concept called Shenpa, or the feeling of being “hooked” by something – or stuck. Lately I’ve been feeling hooked by my own thoughts more than usual, my mind racing from one thing to the next. I’m not sure if it’s a function of essentially having two jobs (food writing and Marge) and always — inevitably — thinking of the pulls of one while tackling the other. Pema Chodron would probably say that I’m captive to these to-do lists and the constant narrative in my head of what needs to happen next. I’m being held by them.

Chodron’s suggestion on becoming unstuck and uncaptive is to recognize what’s happening, lean into it, and then quietly move on so that it doesn’t become a contest that you’re winning or losing. Sounds like a lifetime of work, really. But the part that struck me is that you’re not trying to change anything or run away or make a drastic move — you just recognize it and actually move in upon it. You can listen to the chatter without doing much about it. I chuckled this past weekend while at the market buying the rhubarb in these photographs as I did just that — listened to my own thoughts: what if the rhubarb disappears this year before I get a chance to make something I’m excited about? Where to begin? What recipes had I bookmarked? Should I buy extra? Should I start stocking up now?

Now please know, I realize there are bigger problems in the world — obviously– than the potential lack of rhubarb on a sunny spring day. That’s not at all what I aimed to write about here. Instead, it’s worth noting that a breakfast cake can teach small lessons. It helped banish that annoying, unnecessary chatter, at least momentarily. There will be other rhubarb recipes in our kitchen in the coming weeks (and maybe even one on the site — who knows?), but for now I’m just trying to enjoy this humble cake slowly, slice by slice. I’m not sure you can ever really experience something fully if you’re constantly wondering and anticipating what will come next. This is true with the projects I do for work, the time I spend with Sam on the weekends, and what I’m baking in the kitchen. This rhubarb cake elicits enough contentment to banish the urge to stock up on rhubarb or to think about what, exactly, I’ll make next. It is good just the way it is — for today.

Now I thought long and hard about what to call this recipe as it’s really not so much a light and airy cake as it is a big, crumbly scone. I love it because it’s simple and quick — no rolling pin, no chilling of dough, no fussing. And it’s a great way to use your favorite seasonal fruits. It does have a bit more sugar than I’d typically use in a breakfast recipe, but keep in mind that rhubarb really needs sugar because it’s so tart. When using sweeter fruits, you could most certainly cut down on the amount of sugar stirred into the fruit mixture, likely by up to a 1/4 cup. All told, it’s not nearly as sweet as a cake and is great served with a generous dollop of plain yogurt and a chunk of time away from your nagging to-do list.

Rhubarb Breakfast Cake

Rhubarb Breakfast Cake

  • Yield: Serves: 6-8
  • Prep time: 20 mins
  • Cook time: 1 hr
  • Inactive time: 20 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr 40 mins

If you’d like to experiment and try different flours, feel free. I do love using barley flour when baking with fruit, but if you’d prefer to substitute all-purpose or another flour (oat flour would be really nice), go right ahead: this is a rustic, forgiving recipe. You could also use  any fruits that you like here. Next time I’m going to stir in some strawberry slices to accompany the rhubarb. To carry the cake through the seasons, it’d be wonderful with thinly sliced pears and cardamom in the fall, apples and quince in the winter and a heap of berries in the summer.


1 cup barley flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 1 tablespoon more for the pan
1 egg, beaten
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
1 pound rhubarb, thinly sliced (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, to serve


Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 10-inch enamel or glass pie pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, 1/2 cup of the sugar, ginger, cardamom, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingertips (or use a pastry blender if you prefer) until it’s incorporated and resembles small coarse peas. Add the beaten egg, 1 cup of buttermilk, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Using a fork or a wooden spoon, stir until it’s no longer crumbly and becomes a dough that you can gather together easily with your hands.

In a small bowl, combine the sliced rhubarb and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Stir to combine.

Divide the dough into two and pat the first half into the prepared pan and pat down so it’s uniformly covering the bottom of the dish. Turn the rhubarb mixture out onto the top and spread evenly. It will be pretty heaped up–that’s okay. Take the second round of dough and pat it out into a rough circle on a clean work surface. Cover the rhubarb with the second round of dough as best you can (the top needn’t look perfect like a pie — it’s a rustic dish and you won’t have exactly enough dough to cover the rhubarb perfectly. If there are holes or open spots, no need to worry).

Using a pastry brush, brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of buttermilk across the top of the cake. Sprinkle the top with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the top is golden and the rhubarb is bubbly and quite soft.  Allow cake to cool for 15 minutes after removing it from the oven. Slice in wedges, much like a scone. Serve warm with a generous dollop of whole-milk plain yogurt. As with many whole-grain baked goods, this cake is best enjoyed the day it’s made. If you do have leftovers, wrap well and keep at room temperature for up to 1 additional day.


  1. Anna

    I definitely get the frantic need to stock up sometimes at the farmers' market. Although it is way too early for rhubarb here, I've noticed that many farmers sell it throughout the season. Of course it can be harvested all season but I think you don't see it after June in a lot of places because there are too many other good things to take its place.

  2. emmycooks

    I think I remember you planting a garden when you moved to Seattle. Tuck a few rhubarb crowns into the corners this fall and you'll banish your worry for good--it's one of the few things that grows like gangbusters in this climate. Which doesn't make up for the tomato problem...but it's something. :)

  3. Stacy

    This is precisely how I feel about rhubarb. And about a lot of other things as well in regard to my actual life/career/future/etc., which perhaps is more to be expected, but I do get seriously worked up about rhubarb and the potential of missing it. I know it's popping up at some markets in the area, but it isn't yet at my farmers market (Grand Lake in Oakland!), and I'm getting antsy. Thanks for the reminder to just be calm and enjoy today.

    Also, once I do get my hands on a bounty of rhubarb, I will be making this cake. I am all about your style of baked goods.

  4. Stacey

    Another great post Megan. 2 questions though, if I omit the rhubarb and just use strawberries, should I reduce the sugar? And could I sub equal parts addl white and whole wheat flour instead of adding the barley? I wasn't sure if the absorbtion rates were the same. Thanks!

    1. megang

      Hi, Stacey: Yes to your flour question. If the total quantity is the same, you'll be fine regardless of if it's barley flour, white flour etc (I just wouldn't use all whole-wheat because it'll end up a little tough). As for strawberries: I haven't tried the recipe with all strawberries but if I were you, I would decrease the sugar in the berries and just use 2 tablespoons instead of 1/4 cup (if the berries are naturally sweet on their own, that is). Since strawberries have more moisture than rhubarb, I'd decrease the amount of the fruit itself, too (maybe start with 2 1/4 cups sliced strawberries). Then I think you'll be golden. Let me know how it goes, and enjoy the week, ~mg

  5. Sarah

    Cake looks amazing! Love your sentiment, and love your work.

  6. Karen

    Now that I live in an apartment and not in a house after retiring, my garden rhubarb is gone. But copied this recipe anyway because this is definitely a recipe keeper even with the price of store rhubarb. Thanks.

  7. Tania @ The Cook's Pyjamas

    I can relate to your thoughts on rhubarb. I used to do something very similar. Just last summer we planted three crowns and now I have my own supply. I love the look of this. I really love what barley flour adds to a crust. We are right in the middle of pear season here and starting to see the first of the apples so I am going to try it with these. Thanks.

  8. Sue @ The view from Great Island

    Of course, you had me at 'breakfast cake', and I've been fixated on finding some great bright red rhubarb lately before it disappears, they seem to like to hide it at my supermarket.

  9. Carole

    How funny! I had just cut myself a slice of warm rhubarb bread and sat down to check e-mail. Ours is taking over the garden and as I pulled stalks to make the bread I was thinking I needed a recipe that uses more than a cup. I have a sentimental attachment to rhubarb because my dear Gram always had a big bowl of stewed rhubarb in the refrig at this time of year. I loved it over one of her homemade biscuits with creme fraiche. Good food is a gift . Thanks for the gift of this great sounding recipe.

  10. Kathryn

    I feel exactly the same way about rhubarb; we eat it in every way imaginable and I still end up freezing some. This cake sounds like a wonderful treat.

  11. molly

    So beautiful, Megan. Thank you.

  12. Courtney

    Nobody grows rhubarb in my area so I'm always left living vicariously through others that find it. This breakfast cake looks lovely and I imagine it would taste wonderful with our local strawberries that have been available here for the past couple of weeks. I go through the same dilemma over whether or not to stock up and hoard them every year but I somehow always eat them up before they make it to the freezer :)

  13. Yohann

    This looks fantastic. Rhubarb has the most interesting flavor. It has been a long winter!

  14. Kasey

    I needed to read this, M. As I approach my 30th birthday, I can't help but think of how little time I feel like I have for the things I want to both accomplish and enjoy. Thank you for sharing some wise words. And, YES, rhubarb!

  15. Mia

    I have made this three times so far. Twice with rhubarb and tonight with raspberries and blueberries. I have used barley flour with the rhubarb and followed the recipe exactly. Tonight with the raspberries & blueberries, I went with oat flour and switched out the ginger for cinnamon and fresh grated ginger. OMG it was amazing!! This will definitely be made again and again and again.

    1. megang

      Hooray! Awesome, Mia! So glad you're enjoying it. ~mg

  16. Yummy | Knit & Play with Fire

    [...] Well given I have made this four times in under a month, it must be good. I have done it with both barley flour and oat flour. I have changed up the spices. And used rhubarb, blueberries and raspberries. And all work great.  And the magic link I forgot – Rhubarb Breakfast Cake [...]

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