I have been thinking about this cake all week.
After our dinner party on Saturday, I kept finding treats in the fridge. Jen had filled her car with produce from her farm, and a few bundles of this or that found their way into my crisper drawer. There was the most beautiful bunch of rhubarb, and on Sunday morning, as I peaked into the fridge in a bleary “stayed up till two cleaning up and drinking wine after I spent the morning going door to to door for my campaign” sort of state, I saw that rhubarb and I said,
“Screw it all. I’m going to make rhubarb cake.”
Of course, I don’t have time to make cake. I don’t even have time to make a sandwich. The past few weeks, you might walk into the kitchen and find me eating potato chips for lunch, or cold cuts out of the fridge. It is not a good time for my belly right now.
So on Sunday, I did not make a cake. On Monday, I did not make a cake. On Tuesday, I did not make a cake.
On Wednesday, I made a cake.
Life did not mysteriously clear before my eyes. I didn’t find myself standing around with nothing to do. But I did go into that fridge, and I saw that rhubarb, and it called to me.
“Stop! It’s time to make cake!”
I closed the computer. For some strange and coincidental reason, my phone actually stopped working. And as I creamed the butter and beat those eggs in one at a time, I thought,
“I never want to be so busy that I can’t make a cake.”
Because a cake like this takes no time at all. If you take out the butter to soften in the morning, you can spend 15 minutes sometime later in the day, even less if you are a speedy chopper (which I, sadly am not). And then the house smells like butter and sugar, and there is a pan on the counter that radiates with golden light. You know cakes that do that? They make a kitchen feel like a place you want to sit, no matter how busy you are. Because who doesn’t have time for a piece of cake? A cup of tea, or a glass of milk, and then back to it.
This cake is one of my favorites. Simple, not so sweet, and super moist. It is nice enough for dessert, but also perfect for tea, and just permissible for breakfast. Rhubarb is the fruit of choice at the moment, but the it can act as a great base for a raspberry or blackberry cake. Creme Fraiche or whipped cream could be nice, but really there is no need. The cake and fruit do just fine together on their own.
loosely adapted from Erma Mabel’s Rhubarb Cake, Moosewood Book of Desserts
(Fills a 9×13 pan, which is a lot of cake, but it stays good for several days. If you prefer to have less cake, halve the recipe and use an 8×8 square pan)
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds chopped rhubarb (about 5 cups), cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 baking dish.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
In a separate medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla in a measuring cup.
Starting and ending with the flour mixture, alternately add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture, beating after each addition.
Spread a bit more than half of the batter in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the batter with the rhubarb pieces. Then cover with the rest of the batter, taking care not to press the rhubarb into the bottom batter layer. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until a knife, when inserted, comes out clean and the top of the cake is golden.