Food and Drink

In a sea of rhubarb cakes, this tart, crumble-topped snacker is a standout

julia o’malley, summer recipe

I love it when somebody writes to me that they love my recipe and it’s one I tested a bunch of times and sweated over, and then they immediately tell me all the ways they changed the recipe, so it isn’t actually my recipe at all. This is honest. It’s the way we cook, really. For most of us, each time we make a recipe, it’s iterative, a little different depending on the time we have and what we have on hand.

I sifted through a stack of old Alaska rhubarb cake recipes before settling on this one. A friend brought the cake over and it was just delicious, extra rhubarb-y and not too sweet, part cobbler/part crumble/part old-fashioned coffee cake. He informed me that it was his take on a Smitten Kitchen recipe, which was itself a take on a Martha Stewart recipe, which was, basically, a fruit/sour cream coffee cake recipe that you can find in many, many cookbooks.

The architecture is simple. The cake on the bottom rises through the fruit. The fruit, which has been tossed with lemon and sugar, softens and caramelizes. The sweet topping quiets down the rhubarb’s tartness. I shared it with the whole menagerie of people who come through my kitchen. The dog even got an unsanctioned taste. The consensus: it’s a standout.

This version is done in my friend’s style, extra heavy on the ‘barb, light on the sugar. I use yogurt instead of sour cream, because it’s what I tend to have but you can easily sub sour cream. You may have to add some baking time, depending on the moisture in your rhubarb, which can vary a lot in a hot summer. Also, it’s very important to dice it thin. You can use frozen rhubarb, but defrost it first and add two teaspoons of cornstarch when you mix it with the sugar.

Rhubarb Crumble Snack Cake

Serves 8 to 10

Cake

5 to 6 cups (about 1.5 pounds) rhubarb, trimmed and diced into pieces thinner than half-inch

1 2/3 cup white sugar, divided

Juice and zest of one lemon

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup whole milk plain yogurt

Topping

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons melted salted butter

Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch pan and, if desired, line with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, stir sugar, lemon juice and rhubarb together. Set aside, stirring once or twice as you make the other layers. In another medium bowl, make the crumb. Combine flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and butter. Work the butter through the dry ingredients to form a crumbly topping. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter until fluffy. Add remaining two-thirds cup white sugar, eggs and lemon zest, beat until well combined. Whisk together dry ingredients in a separate bowl and, with the mixer on low, shake them into the wet ingredients. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated, mix in the yogurt. Spread the batter on the bottom of the prepared pan, evening it out with a spatula. Give the rhubarb a few more good stirs to mix in any sugar that collected at the bottom of the bowl. Then, spread it evenly on top of the batter. Sprinkle that with the crumble topping. Bake for one hour or until the middle of the cake is cooked through and bubbling and the crumble topping is golden.


Julia O'Malley

Anchorage-based Julia O'Malley is a former ADN reporter, columnist and editor. She received a James Beard national food writing award in 2018, and a collection of her work, "The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska," was published in 2019. She's currently writer in residence at the Anchorage Museum.

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