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
- 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.
- Repeat step one with the next third of each mixture.
- Repeat step one with the final 1/3 of flour, sugar and buttermilk. You should have a thicker than normal cake batter.
- Gently fold in the sliced rhubarb, but save a few tablespoons of rhubarb slices.
- Spoon the batter into the Bundt pan.
- Sprinkle the top of the batter with the extra rhubarb slices you set aside in step 4.
- Bake for 1 hour.
- Remove from oven. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack.
- Remove cooled cake onto a plate
- 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
- Drizzle the lemon icing onto the top of the cooled cake.
- Let the icing set for at least a half hour before serving
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.