It has indeed been quieter around here than I’d anticipated or planned for but it’s taken us a bit longer to bounce back from moving than I’d imagined. I mentally kept telling myself we were just moving up the street — that it’d be no big deal and I could do small trips throughout the week. And I did this. And it kind of felt like no big deal at the time. But the small trips all started to realllllly add up after awhile. We did have a lot of help on the actual moving day, but by that time I was pretty much ready to lie down in the guest room and take a day-long nap, which of course wasn’t an option. In fact! It turns out our box spring didn’t fit up the staircase so Sam had to saw it in half in the basement while I kept myself nervously busy, and by the time we got it upstairs and all set up I think both of us were more than ready to collapse. We felt pretty proud that at least there was a bed in the midst of all those boxes. Suffice it to say, there has been more painting and unpacking than cooking around here lately. We’ve been eating a lot of quick takeout from the co-op, my famous-only-to-Sam chicken salad, and easy open-face quesadillas. But a few nights ago, I decided it was time to bake something proper. So here we are. I’ve missed you!
I’d run across some really beautiful looking rhubarb at the store and picked it up not exactly knowing what I wanted to do with it. There was, of course, the Rhubarb Breakfast Cake I’d made on the blog a few years ago. But I’d seen Molly’s recent post and thought that might be the way to go, until I saw this pie and thought perhaps that was actually the right direction. My friend Natalie made a straight rhubarb pie with candied ginger in it for our bookclub, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
But when it came down to it, after organizing all of my cookbooks and, exhausted, sitting down to stare at them, my favorite little cake cookbook stood out and I wondered if there was a rhubarb recipe within its pages. Sure enough, we were in business with what author Pam Corbin called a Rhubarb Pudding Cake.
The River Cottage Cakes Book is a wonderfully British book featuring relatively humble cakes (you won’t see any towering three layer affairs) that always call to me. I baked the Honey Cake a few years back and before that I’d baked up the fragrant, addictive Cardamom Cake. Many of the cakes featured are the sort you want to have with a dollop of fresh whipped cream after dinner, but really you want to wake up to a slice with your morning coffee. I’ve found (and this cake is no exception) that they’re not too sweet or syrupy and generally really celebrate the star ingredients without masking them with cloying frostings or glazes.
Because the book is British, it obviously uses grams exclusively so I’ve included both standard and metric measurements for you in the recipe below. And I often find there are a few ingredients that I’m just not familiar with in the book, so I’ll often make substitutions or adapt as needed. The recipe for this sturdy yet tender, buttery rhubarb-flecked cake is no exception: it calls for cornflower or custard powder (thus the original name) which I didn’t have in my pantry and I don’t think is all that common here in the States. I substituted rice flour instead, which worked out perfectly; after a quick Google search it seems you could also use cornstarch. The recipe calls for golden caster sugar which is a really fine brown sugar found in many British baking recipes; I used a superfine white sugar instead. Last, Corbin’s cake calls for self-raising flour which is essentially flour with a little added salt and baking powder, so I’ve gone ahead and tweaked the recipe below to reflect that. I’d generally use a whole grain flour here and I don’t really remember the last time I baked with 100% all purpose flour, but the kitchen isn’t fully unpacked and there was something really appealing about just opening up a cookbook and following directions. So that’s exactly what I did.
Making this cake is relatively simple and can be done while stepping over a few stray boxes. I actually found mixing it up almost as gratifying as eating a slice: as you beat in the eggs slowly, the batter becomes this wonderful glossy yellow and once you fold in the yogurt and vanilla it’s fragrant and creamy and just awaiting the addition of bright spring rhubarb. I have a hunch this could be a great base recipe for blueberries or cherries later this summer — a time I envision us eating outdoors in our small yard often, cooking more, fully settled in and fuss-free.
Adapted ever-so-slightly from: Cakes by Pam Corbin
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch bundt pan (or similar size round pan with a removable bottom). Alternatively, you could use an 9-inch square baking dish*.
Put the rhubarb into a bowl and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of flour; toss until the pieces are all covered. This coating will help to prevent rhubarb from sinking to the bottom of the cake.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and white rice flour. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, using a handheld electric mixer (or stand mixer), beat the butter until light and slightly fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat well to combine. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding in 1 tablespoon flour mixture after each addition and beating well before adding the next egg. Stir in the yogurt and vanilla. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the remaining flour and sliced rhubarb.
Turn the batter out into prepared pan, leveling the top with the back of a spoon and giving the pan a few taps on the counter to level the mix. Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and springs back when touched. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes to cool before inverting onto a plate or serving dish. Dust with confectioners sugar if desired. Serve with whipped cream. Store leftover cake covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.
*If you go this route, I wouldn’t invert this cake at the end: just slice into squares and serve.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.