Recipe: Lemon Rhubarb Cake



There are certain foods that you eat only in season: Apple Pie in fall, Strawberry Shortcake in June, BBQ Ribs and Corn-On-The-Cob in summer, and Roast Turkey in the winter. This adds a rhythm to the year and anticipation for what’s next.

May is when rhubarb is ready to harvest in northern gardens, and that is the time to make rhubarb-y things. I’ll admit I really don’t care for rhubarb desserts. They are too runny, too sweet or too painfully tart… except for this recipe. It merges lemon’s aromatic flavor with the rhubarb’s. Lemon-Rhubarb cake is a fantastic seasonal dessert.

Restaurant columnist Kathie Jenkins of the Pioneer Press posted this recipe last year. She got it from Julie Richardson’s Rustic Fruits Desserts cookbook. It’s not a quick or simple recipe – there are a lot of bowls involved – but it’s one of the best desserts you can ever make. I am not a baker, but I’ll endure the effort to get a few slices of this unusual cake. Besides, it is only once a year.

I hope you give it a go.





  • 2.5 cup sifted flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 and 3/4 cup sugar
  • zest of one fresh lemon
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp lemon extract

  • about four stalks of fresh, spring-harvested rhubarb stalks, washed

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • juice from one lemon, strained
  • 1 tablespoon butter at room temperature 



Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and flour one Bundt pan.



Wash and clean the rhubarb stalks. Slice thin using a food processor. Put three cups of the sliced rhubarb in a small bowl. Toss with a tablespoon of flour. Set aside.


Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Set aside

Beat sugar, zest and butter until fluffy in a medium bowl. Add eggs, one at a time. Continue beating. Add lemon extract.


Assemble and Bake

  1. In a large, clean bowl, add 1/3  of the flour mixture, 1/3 of the sugar mixture and 1/3 of the buttermilk. Stir by hand until well mixed.
  2. Repeat step one with the next third of each mixture.
  3. Repeat step one with the final 1/3 of flour, sugar and buttermilk. You should have a thicker than normal cake batter.
  4. Gently fold in the sliced rhubarb, but save a few tablespoons of rhubarb slices.
  5. Spoon the batter into the Bundt pan.
  6. Sprinkle the top of the batter with the extra rhubarb slices you set aside in step 4.
  7. Bake for 1 hour.
  8. Remove from oven. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack.
  9. Remove cooled cake onto a plate





Frost it!

  1. Mix the powdered sugar, tablespoon butter and lemon juice in a small bowl. If it is too thick, add very small amounts of water to thin it enough for the next step
  2. Drizzle the lemon icing onto the top of the cooled cake.
  3. Let the icing set for at least a half hour before serving



Some Notes:

Did you know Rhubarb makes a great ornamental plant?


I’ve positioned mine in the garden for its bold, tropical look. It looks especially attractive as a foliage contrast against fine-textured plants like ornamental grasses. My plant, ‘Shrek,’ is six feet across. In June he sends up five-foot panicles of white astilbe-like flowers. Rhubarb doesn’t like summer’s heat; by the end of July it’s pretty tattered, and in August the plant is mostly gone.

Back to the recipe… I use a convection oven, so I shave five minutes from the cook time and cook it at 325.

If you don’t have lemon extract, just substitute with the juice of half a lemon and use a little less buttermilk.

You cannot freeze rhubarb. Shrek was very productive last year, so I froze extra slices to make the cake in the winter. My frozen rhubarb was a runny, flavorless mess. If you use it, you will wind up with a pink lemon cake.



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