Rhubarb the Barbarian takes tea

Warning, the following contains a reference to the original Conan the Barbarian movie, which if you haven’t seen for some reason is one of the author’s “what is best in life” films.

Does the promise of tasty rhubarb make you want to crush your enemies and ride free with the wind in your hair? A slice of rhubarb cake with tea might not sound very barbaric, but surely it’s up there when asked “what is best in life?”.

Finding a neglected pound of farm fresh rhubarb in the fridge yesterday did indeed reminded me of what is best in life, and sometimes it’s an honest, simple food made with peak season produce. I’ve done my best to keep up with all the rhubarb my veggie share besieges me with: pie, jam, even a chutney, but I’ve always been curious about rhubarb cake. I’m not huge a fan of rhubarb-only pie, and I really want to like cold rhubarb soup, someday. Can cake alone, without the aid of sweet strawberries, be enough to tame the wild pucker-up nature of rhubarb?

Cakes loaded with fresh, juicy produce have their potential pitfalls: soggy cake, runny fruit, underbaked middles and overdry edges. But unlike berries, just-stems rhubarb doesn’t burst and bleed all over the place during baking, nor does it contain nearly as much water as sliced peaches. I was pleased to see how easily the stringy hard stalks encased in cake batter transform into tart pink nugget of luscious “fruit”, and the cake wasn’t rendered too soggy either. Next time around I’d throw in a handful of dried cherries or even fresh raspberries for additional color. It helps that the cake is fantastic on it’s own; tender and light, with pleasing graininess from almond meal and a kiss of corn meal. A generous sprinkling of cinnamon turbinado sugar enhances the cute hilly rustic surface not unlike the rolling hills of Hyperboria or wherever your barbaric heart hails from.

Rhubarbarian Teacake
makes one 9 ½ inch cake


1 pound rhubarb stalks
1 tablespoon all purpose flour

Cake:
1 cup plain or vanilla soymilk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract or grated zest of 1 orange
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup ground almonds

Topping:
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 ½ inch springform pan with cooking spray, then lightly dust bottom and sides with flour. Slice rhubarb on an angle into ½ thick pieces. Place in a mixing bowl, sprinkle with flour and toss to coat rhubarb.

2. In large mixing bowl whisk together soy milk and apple cider vinegar. Stir in sugar, canola oil, vanilla extract and orange extract/zest and continue to whisk until smooth. Sift in flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and then pour in the ground almonds. With a rubber spatula stir together just enough to moisten the dry ingredients, then fold in rhubarb. Stir only just enough to coat rhubarb chunks with batter. Spread in an even layer into the prepared springform pan and bake for 40-42 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes clean (a few moist crumbs okay).

3. Remove from oven onto a cooling rack; let cool for 25 minutes, run a knife along the edges of the cake and carefully remove springform ring. Slice warm cake with a sharp knife and serve immediately with vanilla ice cream or vegan whipped cream. Store leftover cake in a loosely covered container in a cool place; it will soften considerably overnight from the fresh rhubarb and humidity of your kitchen, but you can heat it gently in the oven to help re-crisp the top a little.

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