Rhubarb is definitely one of my favorite things in all the world, and this Brown Butter Rhubarb Cake is not the only reason.
There are few things that are more rewarding to grow. Once established, it will continue to produce pretty much for the rest of your life. It is a big plant, but not unattractive, so it’s not hard to find a spot for it, even in an urban setting. You have to give a couple years after first planting before picking very much, but after that, so long as you keep the flower heads pulled off, you can harvest stalks for a couple of months. In really hot weather it may not keep on producing quite so much – when I see it slowing down, I pretty much leave it be – usually in July sometime.
But I think the best part is how early it is ready to eat – with the exception of chives, it’s the first thing I can harvest each spring. I’ve accumulated a number of plants over the years, from friends, as well as various plant nurseries, so I have 3 or 4 different kinds, none of which I can recall the variety name. Some are the big old fashioned mostly green ones, and others are more slender and nearly completely red.
If you aren’t familiar with growing rhubarb, and you want to give it a try, go to YouTube, and search for videos about growing, harvesting and using it – there is a ton of great info out there. The one caveat about growing it is that you have to live in a place where the temperature gets down below 40 degrees in the winter. It needs that cold, dormant weather to stimulate spring growth.
It is more readily available in the grocery store than it used to be, so if you live in a place where it won’t grow you might find it there. It’s a big item in Farmer’s Markets this time of year too. It is nearly as good frozen as it is fresh, because it breaks down pretty much entirely either way, so I try to get a good amount in the freezer for the winter months.So now, lets talk about this cake. It comes together pretty quickly, with the most time consuming part being browning the butter. If you think of it, you can do that ahead of time, and then let it sit to come back to room temperature. When I forget, I just cool the browned butter in the freezer for awhile, pulling it out to stir every every 5 minutes. It takes about 15 minutes to get it cooled to room temperature. Stir it until it is smooth and a uniform texture before starting the cake.
- 4 cups ½ inch rhubarb slices [about 4 big stalks]
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter [1 stick, plus 2 tablespoons]
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 & ½ cups all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ cup buttermilk or regular plain yogurt
- In a medium bowl [I just use a 4 cup glass measuring cup], mix together the rhubarb, ⅓ sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
- To brown the butter, place it in a 2 quart sauce pan and melt over medium heat. Leave on medium heat, and continue to cook [it will sort of simmer], stirring every 20 seconds or so, or swirling the pan so it cooks evenly. The extra liquid will gradually cook off, leaving behind just the fat, which will then begin to brown. Once it begins to brown, stir or swirl constantly. You want it to get to a nice nutty color, so be patient and watch it carefully - the closer it is to done, the more easily it will burn. Once browned, scrape it into a small dish to cool, making sure to get all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- When ready to start the cake, preheat the oven to 350º and generously butter, and then flour a 10 inch cake pan or springform pan. Tap out excess flour and set the pan aside. It's a good idea to cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom, which will make it easier to get the cake out after baking. [this is too much cake to go in an 8 or 9 inch pan, so if you don't have a 10 inch pan, use two 9 inch pie plates, or two large bread pans]
- When the butter is at room temperature, place it in the bowl of a stand mixer, or a regular mixing bowl, if using a hand mixer.
- Cream the butter briefly, and then beat in the sugar.
- Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla.
- In another small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.
- Add the flour mixture and buttermilk or yogurt alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Don't overmix - just beat in each addition until it is nearly incorporated and then add the next one. after the final addition, turn off the mixer, scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber scraper and give it a few good folds to make sure everything is evenly mixed.
- Spread half of the batter evenly in the prepared pan, getting right up to the edges.
- Give the rhubarb mixture a good stir and spread it evenly over the batter, along with all of the syrup that will have formed.
- Spread the second half of the batter evenly over the fruit - if there are a few places that don't get completely covered, it will be fine.
- Bake for about 50 minutes - maybe even as much as 60 minutes. A toothpick inserted near the center should come out clean. If you look carefully, you will able to tell the difference between cake batter and the juices from the rhubarb - juices are okay, batter is not. In this case, it's better to err on the side of too done than not enough.
- Remove cake to a cooling rack, and after a few minutes, loosen and remove the sides of the springform pan. If you use parchment paper, you will probably be able to slide the cake right off the pan bottom which will help it cool a little more evenly. Serve warm or cooled, plain or with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, some lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Refrigerate leftovers.
It really is one of the best cakes I have ever made – rich, and moist with a jammy sweet and tart ribbon of rhubarb through the middle.I love spring!
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