one year in college, the garden club grew rhubarb. I’d never really heard of rhubarb before then – is it a fruit? is it a vegetable? I’m still not entirely sure. (update: wikipedia tells me it’s a dessert vegetable!) when it first started coming out of the ground with its red stems and firm leaves, it looked an awful lot like chard. thankfully, someone else in the club warned me the leaves are poisonous before I cooked up a batch and killed my junior year suitemates.
I came across the “big crumb” coffee cake recipe on smitten kitchen shortly after my education in rhubarb. this was back when my aunt was really into the smitten kitchen blog – before she realized she’s really not that much into cooking after all.
in the meanwhile, my junior year was a year of culinary education for me. my friend g taught me how to roast a chicken (and how make pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin, how to salt food correctly, and how to make great risotto – basically the roots of everything I know). I’d always enjoyed good food and baking before, but I do look back on that year as a sort of beginning.
it’s been eight years since then. I’ve made this rhubarb coffee cake a bunch of times – after the first few times, I kind of realized that the fun size of the crumbs wasn’t worth the trace taste of uncooked flour, and I’ve incorporated little hints of added flavor, but the base recipe is a winner and it remains a personal favorite.
makes makes one 8•8-in pan
1/2 lb rhubarb + strawberries*
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp lemon zest (~1/2 lemon)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, softened & cut into 8 pieces
melissa clark. rhubarb “big crumb” coffeecake. new york times. 6 june 2007. acceed 25 may 2020.
crumbs|1 in large bowl, whisk together flour, sugars, spices, and salt until well-combined. stir in butter with spatula until the mixture is well-moistened but still clumpy.
cake|1 preheat oven to 325ºF. grease an 8×8-in square baking pan.
2 in a small bowl, stir together sour cream, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.
3 using a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt on low speed. add butter and spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. add remaining sour cream mixutre in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl with spatula. scoop out ~1/2 cup batter and set aside.
4 scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. spoon rhubarb over batter. dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.
5 pour crumb mixture evenly over cake and gently press into the batter. bake cake until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of batter, 45-55 minutes. cool completely before serving.
*you can choose to use 1/2 lb of rhubarb, as the original recipe calls for. I personally like just a handful of strawberries (~6oz rhubarb, ~2oz strawberries) to add a touch of fruity sweetness.