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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.