rhubarb stir cake
On an unusually warm afternoon in the summer of 1980, my sister and I wandered into a little thicket of shade created by enormous ruffly leaves curving out from bright red stalks just tall enough for little girls to play beneath. Elated at such a discovery, we raced home to collect our buckets and shovels and then, for reasons intelligible only to little girls, spent the rest of the afternoon happily digging in the cool dirt amid those leafy stalks. I’m not sure if this memory has stuck with me for nearly thirty years because that patch of shade was such a lovely place in which to play or because of the boatload of trouble we got into when our favorite digging spot turned out to be the rhubarb patch of a neighbor lady whose Navy husband significantly outranked our father.
But stick it does. As formative events go, (accidentally) destroying a neighbor’s rhubarb patch is hardly worth mentioning, but I think of that poor lady every time I make rhubarb pie or rhubarb compote or rhubarb barbecue sauce or rhubarb bellinis or, well, I make a lot of stuff with rhubarb. I like to think that what I’m actually making is amends, although I recognize that that lady would probably not give a rat’s ass about my self-imposed rhubarb penance.
I doubt she’d be able to resist this cake, though, because it’s pretty dreamy. Dreamier, even, than leafy green shade on a hot summer day, which is about as dreamy as a cake can get. It’s incredibly moist, with melty bits of rhubarb that blend beautifully into their sugary background and a judicious sweetness that respectfully balances the tartness of rhubarb without attempting to disguise its signature tang.
So we’ve established that the cake is dreamy. What remains a mystery is the nature of the cake: is it a coffee cake? A snack cake? A dessert? I don’t know. I do know that Jamie Oliver, from whom I swiped the recipe, calls it a stir cake — presumably because making it is as simple as stirring. I also know that doesn’t tell us much about when we’re supposed to eat it, so I took it upon myself to sample the cake at various points throughout the day and my research can be summarized thusly: yes. It is a coffee cake, a snack cake, a dessert. Eat it whenever the hell you want.
Because did I mention it’s dreamy?
Rhubarb Stir Cake
from Jamie Oliver
This cake bakes up with a lovely thin, sugary crust that is delightful on the first day and nice on the second day but pretty sticky and not terribly pleasant by the third day. Which is to say: go ahead and gobble it up.
¼ c. unsalted butter, softened
1½ c. packed brown sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
2 1/3 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 c. yogurt
4 c. chopped rhubarb (about 8 stalks)
¼ c. sugar
¼ t. nutmeg
¼ t. cinnamon
powdered sugar for dusting
1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13″ baking pan; set aside.
2) In large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla.
3) Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in separate bowl; gradually stir in to butter mixture. Fold in yogurt and rhubarb. The batter will seem very thick, like cookie dough. Don’t panic.
4) Spoon batter into greased and floured baking pan and smooth with spatula.
5) Stir together sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon; sprinkle over batter.
6) Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on rack.
7) Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar to serve.