Want to make this rhubarb cake? Click here to find my recipe for rhubarb pumpkin seed cake.
I have this really bad habit. It’s weird and counterintuitive, and my terrible habit rears its ugly head specifically when I bake something that should be yummy, but instead is so-so, or just alright. See, usually when I bake something for the blog, like this rhubarb cake recipe, I photograph it right away (assuming it has turned out right, look-wise). Then when the last photo is taken, I often sit on the floor in front of my set and sample what I’ve baked so that I can decide how I feel about it. The weird order of things is for the sake of time-efficiency, and on good days, it all works out fine and what I’ve baked and photographed is exactly what I want to share with you. On bad days, I may have to revisit a recipe 3 or 4 times (or even 6 times!) before it’s ready for the blog. I may have to reshoot several times too. And if I’m not happy with the recipe or the results, it won’t end up on the blog until I’ve done my best to work out the kinks.
Anyways, on days when I’m happy with the results, I am very disciplined with my eating of the baked goods. I tend to share what I’ve made with everyone around and I will slowly eat the pieces I’ve saved for myself, savouring each bite. Go figure, when the result is “okay” or “just alright”, this is when things get messy. I lose control, usually at about 10 or 11 pm that same night. On days when I’m not quite sure how I feel about what I’ve baked, you will probably find me standing by the stove, with the cake (or the cookies) in front of me. I am probably scarfing it all down, piece by piece. I eat an obscene amount of cake (or cookies), while I ponder what went wrong with the recipe, and what I need to do tomorrow to fix it and to make it better (because nothing is ever perfect). I suppose binging helps me analyze the recipe and the results. Perhaps I’m giving myself too much credit…
Calories consumed on those days: I’m guessing three thousand. Maybe even four thousand. I kid you not. Please don’t judge me!
It’s not always obvious to me with some recipes whether they need tweaking or not. You’d think it would be, but it isn’t. When I bake something new and experimental for the blog, my first reaction upon sampling is usually that I like it. I mean, how often do you bake something that is a complete and utter failure? It’s sweet. It’s buttery. I’m probably starving after working for so many hours, so I’m rather excited to be eating. I find with some sneaky recipes, I think I like the results initially, but something at the back of my mind is bothering me. I can’t pinpoint what’s wrong, and I might not even recognize that there’s a real problem. The signs aren’t so obvious. Sometimes I think everything is fine, but then I find myself at 11 pm in the kitchen, eating the cake straight from the pan. That’s the sign for me. That’s how I know that my recipe needs work and I can do better: when I’m scarfing it down like I’m trying to hide the evidence that it ever existed.
When I was working on the next rhubarb recipes for this blog, I started by baking this rhubarb cake recipe, I found myself around 11 pm, wishing that I’d just go to bed, but instead eating cake.
What was wrong with the first version of this cake? Well, if you glance at the original Bon Appétit recipe, you’ll probably notice there’s a lot of butter. And if you do the math, converting the ingredient amounts to grams, you’ll see that there is more butter than flour, and even if you add up the flour and the nuts, there’s still a lot of butter. When I baked this cake, the first time round, butter leaked out of the tart pan while it was in the oven. Yikes. I love butter, but when butter comes oozing out of cake batter as it bakes, I dare say, something in the recipe is a little off. The butter issue seemed to resolve itself in the oven because when I pulled the cake out when it was baked, there wasn’t too much melted butter left on the tray. I suppose the cake absorbed much of it. If I hadn’t been so attentive to the cake while it baked, I probably wouldn’t have known what had transpired.
The second issue that was even more striking than the butter issue: the cake pan preparation. Bon Appétit suggests to butter and sugar the pan. This seemed like a winning suggestion to me: for my grandmother’s Zilla’s cake recipe, we butter and sugar the pan and it gives the cake a lovely golden sugar crust on the edges. It’s very pleasant to look at and to eat. But the Zilla’s cake recipe is a sponge, a much dryer cake than this one. I gather, from this latest experience, the only time that buttering and sugaring a pan works well is for sponge cakes, not buttery cakes. Plus, buttering and sugaring a tart pan with a removable bottom meant that when it came time to unmold the cake, I had a hell of a time trying to pry it out of the pan, not only because the moist cake had fused with the caramelized sugar on the pan, but also because the sugar had glued the removable bottom to the tart ring. Sure, I got the cake out of the pan in one piece, in the end, but it was a little nerve wracking. I also worried that suggesting that you butter and sugar the cake pan for this cake would result in sadness and hate-mail. I don’t want hate-mail. Only love notes, please.
Obviously, the easy tweak that would have a huge impact on this recipe was changing the cake pan prep step to butter and flour so that there would be no tears while struggling to get the cake out of the pan. That one was a no-brainer. But when I revisited this rhubarb cake recipe the next day, I spent a ridiculous amount of time with a calculator too, trying to figure out how I was going to make this recipe better. I decided to treat the ground pumpkin seeds in the recipe as an add-in rather than an ingredient contributing to the ratio of butter-to-flour. With that in mind, I observed, in the original recipe, that there was 230 grams (1 cup) of butter and 156 grams (1 1/4 cups ) of flour. That really seems like too much butter for that amount of flour, and considering I observed butter seeping out of the pan, I don’t think I’m wrong. So, I reduced the butter in the recipe to 2/3 cup = 153 grams (from 1 cup = 230 grams). This way, the weight of flour equals the weight of butter, and also the weight of sugar, which is also 150 grams (3/4 cup). The new recipe is close to a “quatre quarts” (the French version of pound cake). We aren’t exactly at a quatre quarts cake recipe here because a true quatre quarts has equal parts by weight of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. In this final recipe, the weight of eggs is about 100 grams, and to be a true quatre quarts, I’d need to add a third egg to bring that weight up to 150 grams. I’ll leave that experiment for another day…
The key to this recipe, besides all my tweaks, is beating the butter and sugar for a very long time (like 4 minutes), and then beating in the eggs, one at a time, and then 4 minutes more after they are all added. The resulting batter at this stage is emulsified nicely and extremely light and fluffy, resembling soft whipped cream. Don’t even bother moving forward with the recipe until you achieve that texture.
The resulting cake is very moist and full of rhubarb chunks that go so well in this sweet, nutty cake. It’s absolutely addictive and the perfect cake to bake with rhubarb this season.
A note on cake pan: I used a square 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, but I found the rhubarb chunks in the cake discoloured the stainless steel finish in places. So even though, I used a stainless steel pan for this recipe, it might be more appropriate to bake it in a coated stainless steel, ceramic, or even glass pan to avoid discolouring your pan. You may have to adjust the baking time.
A few helpful resources:
- Mini food processor: I’ve been using this KitchenAid food processor for over 5 years. It works well and you can order it from Amazon
- Stand mixer: I like my KitchenAid professional stand mixer, a little more sturdy than the Artisan version, and it’s available on Amazon
- Square tart pan: I used a 9×9-inch tart pan with removable bottom like this one on Amazon, but this one from Paderno with a non-stick coating might be less reactive to the rhubarb (Amazon), or perhaps this ceramic pan (Amazon) or this glass pan (Amazon)
Rhubarb pumpkin seed cake
Rhubarb pumpkin seed cake
This rhubarb pumpkin seed cake reminds me of a giant financier, it's nutty and moist, and full of rhubarb.
- 1 pound rhubarb washed and trimmed
- 156 grams all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cups
- 108 grams pumpkin seeds 3/4 cups
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp fine kosher salt
- 153 grams unsalted butter 2/3 cup, room temperature
- 150 grams granulated sugar 3/4 cup
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 63 mL full-fat sour cream 1/4 cup
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9x9" square pan (preferably non-reactive). Set aside.
- Slice rhubarb in half, lengthwise (or even in quarters for thicker stalks of rhubarb) and then into 2 1/2" pieces. Select about 36 of the prettiest and set them aside for the top of the cake. Chop the rest into 1/2" pieces. Set aside.
In a small food processor (like this KitchenAid on Amazon), pulse together the flour, pumpkin seeds, baking powder, and salt, until the seeds are finely ground and the dry ingredients are evenly mixed.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (like this KitchenAid on Amazon), cream together the butter and sugar, then beat them together on medium-high speed for a full 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl as needed with a spatula. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition. Then add the vanilla, and beat the mixture again for another 4 minutes on medium-high until it's very pale, light (like soft whipped cream).
- With the mixer on low, add half the dry ingredients, mix them in, then add the sour cream. Scrape down the bowl again, then add the rest of the dry ingredients, and stir just to combine. Take the bowl off the stand, then fold in the 1/2" rhubarb pieces with a spatula. The batter will be very thick.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smearing and pressing it into the corners and edges of the pan. Then arrange the reserved sticks of rhubarb on the top into a pattern (see picture). Sprinkle with 2 tbsp granulated sugar. If you are using a pan with a removable bottom, place it on a baking sheet.
- Bake the cake for at least 80 minutes, rotating after about an hour of baking. Bake the cake until the edges are nicely browned, and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
- Let cool before serving. Unmold after about 20 minutes if you are using a removable bottom tart pan.
This rhubarb cake recipe was adapted from the April 2015 issue of Bon Appétit magazine, page 66.