If I ask you for directions and you tell me verbally, I will smile, nod, thank you, then go get lost anyway and end up searching for an Orange Julius instead. Draw me a map on a napkin, always, please and thank you. Also, do you want to go to Orange Julius with me?
See, I’m a visual person, and often, the way I want something to look dictates everything else. If I didn’t love eating so much, all I’d probably post here would be Play-Doh sculptures and stuff I drew on the Claim Jumper tablecloth.
I got this idea for a geometric upside-down cake ages ago, and have been anxiously awaiting rhubarb season ever since. Now that rhubarb season is here, and so is this cake, it’s a little more… Rustic than I envisioned, but my standards were probably a little too high. I mean, the whole point is for the fruit to get soft and bubbling-hot. Structural integrity just doesn’t jive with that picture.
Still… If this hadn’t turned out at all like I wanted, I may have needed therapy. Ideally from Ina Garten. For now, though, we’re good: we have cake. We have hot coffee. We even have tiny forks! Let’s coffee break like a bunch of bosses.
Of course, if a side of geometry with your cake doesn’t sound fun, and you just want a delicious, easy, fruity spring cake, you don’t need to go to the trouble. Pile in that sugary, boozy rhubarb however you see fit.
If you do want in on this, it isn’t difficult.
Take about a pound (you may want to grab a couple extra stalks, just to have a little wiggle room) of roughly equal-sized (3/4-inch or so in width) rhubarb stalks, then cut them into segments slightly shorter than 3 inches. Arrange them in groups of 3 in a 9×9 pan. They’ll inevitably vary a little in thickness and color, so just try to distribute them somewhat evenly throughout.
The cake itself is loosely based on this pomegranate molasses beauty. Minus pomegranate molasses, plus vanilla and bourbon. I think you could use either recipe, or go with your favorite basic cake (your mileage may vary, no guarantees, etc.). All I wanted here is a tender crumb, buttery flavor, and slightly boozy sweetness. You know what? I got exactly what I wanted. It’s great when that happens.
Yup. What I wanted–and got–was tart, juicy fruit, mellowed with sugar and bourbon, lazily soaking in tender, soft cake. This rhubarb is spring-breaking already… Cheeky rascal.
The rest of us will get there eventually, too. But seriously, where is the Orange Julius around here?
- 1 lb fresh rhubarb (you might want to get a couple extra stalks if making the pattern in the photo)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon bourbon
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Slice rhubarb into slightly-shorter-than-three-inches sections, if you want to make the pattern photographed. (Make sure you have at least 27 sections.) Alternatively, slice the stalks diagonally into roughly 2-inch sections at a diagonal. Toss with sugar and bourbon in a medium bowl and set aside.
- In another medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, combine milk, bourbon, and vanilla.
- In a large bowl, using a mixer, cream together the stick of butter and 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the flour and milk mixtures, alternating between three additions of the flour and two additions of the milk.
- Arrange the rhubarb in the bottom of a 9x9-inch square pan. Discard any excess sugar.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, gently level with a spatula, and bake until top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean--roughly 35 minutes. (Start checking at 30.)
- Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto rack and cool completely.
- Sidenote--when I pulled the pan off the cake, there were some bits of wet cake/sugar somethingorother coming through the spaces in between the rhubarb pieces. I just gently scraped them off with a spoon and went about my cake business (and suggest you do the same).