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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
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.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.