This rhubarb cake combines an almond-scented, light, buttery cake base with tart rhubarb on top for an elegant summer brunch or dessert.
This rhubarb cake has a troubled history.
Mostly troubled in the sense that I could not leave a perfectly fine cake alone, and insisted on messing with it. For months.
You see, I’ve been baking this rhubarb cake repeatedly, and by repeatedly I mean no less than four times, in the past two months. Not because it was bad the first time, or the second time, or the third time. I kept baking it and tinkering with it because I believed I could do better than a “good” cake, despite several testers telling me it was delightful the way it was.
Sometimes I tell myself my perfectionistic nature is an asset. This isn’t one of those times.
If I would have just accepted that this almond-scented, light, buttery cake with tart rhubarb on top was perfectly fine as it was on the first or second try, you’d have been reading this recipe at the end of May.
Instead here we are, nearly in August with rhubarb mostly out of season, and I’m finally publishing this rhubarb cake exactly the way I made it the first time, because it was just right the first time.
I wouldn’t even have published it now, and would likely have continued in a spiral of “well it’s out of season now so what’s the point” and “it’s way too late on a Sunday night and it’s a lot of work and I’m tired” — except that Brian finally turned to me tonight and said, “stop messing around and complaining and wasting time, and just do it already.”
Just do it already.
He’s right, of course.
Nearly three years down the line of writing this blog, I sometimes forget that I started it because I truly loved baking — just for the sheer joy of it — and wanted to share some great recipes for people to bring into their lives.
Somewhere in the chaos of SEO and advertisers and Google algorithms and site speed and lazy loading (I still really don’t know what that means), I’ve become convinced that in order for this blog to be successful, every single recipe, every single post, has to be completely perfect before it is published, and that belief has taken all the fun out of it.
If you couldn’t already tell, I tend towards Type A perfectionism to begin with, and the world of food blogging contains a lot of opportunities for comparison and obsessiveness. Every day it seems like someone else publishes a recipe that I’d been thinking of developing, and they do it faster and better.
This has led to a paralysis of sorts that I feel has held me back from doing what I really wanted to do in the first place: share simple and approachable recipes and have fun in the process.
You may have noticed that my posts have been less frequent of late, and this is why. The comparison trap and the need for perfection are strong.
But the truth is, if I don’t show up because I don’t feel perfect, then my voice is silenced. The way I express myself through this blog and these recipes is silenced. And I don’t give myself the opportunity to fail or succeed because I’m not even willing to try. Yes, this is just a baking blog, but it feels like a larger statement about life, too.
My middle school math teacher was obsessed with basketball and he always had one of those cheesy posters on the wall in the classroom that said “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. You know what? That’s not cheesy, it’s just true.
So here is a recipe for a really good rhubarb cake. Maybe it’s not the “best ever rhubarb cake” or “the only rhubarb cake recipe you’ll ever need” or whatever other superlatives people use when naming recipes – but it’s dependable, it’s light and subtle, it has been tested to high heaven, and it is good.
We’ve dealt with rhubarb before on this blog — see these rhubarb rolls and strawberry rhubarb pie for a refresher — but it remains a finicky vegetable slash fruit nonetheless. Exceedingly tart and really only edible when cooked in sugar, it’s still one of my favorite summer ingredients because it’s so unique.
My best friend’s mom tried to grow rhubarb in her garden this year, which would’ve been awesome but for the fact that her dog insisted on marking his territory on the plant, and it has grown thin and spindly ever since.
So maybe next year I’ll get to try rhubarb from her garden, but until that time it’s generally available at farmers markets and the grocery store in early summer.
Notes on making this rhubarb cake
- Color. For the best color in the finished cake, choose rhubarb that is as deeply red as you can find. I was told by a vendor at the farmer’s market that red stalks have been exposed to more sunlight, whereas green stalks are more likely to be seen earlier in the season when clouds and rain prevail. I also found that brushing melted butter over the arranged rhubarb before baking also kept the color more intact.
- Thin rhubarb is best. Cut your rhubarb in half lengthwise (for really thick stalks, you might even need to cut in quarters) so you have thin stalks that will stay on top of the cake as it bakes, rather than sinking into it. Then cut it into about two inch lengths for arranging.
- Pattern. Arrange the rhubarb in whatever pattern you like best – I did a modified chevron a couple times, as shown in these photos, but it also works by just laying the rhubarb all in one direction if you prefer the simple route or are pressed for time.
- Springform pan. Using a springform pan with removable sides is definitely the best option for this cake, as having to remove the cake from a regular cake pan would be more likely to damage the fragile rhubarb on top.
- Use buttermilk. In the process of my tinkering, I tried this cake with buttermilk, sour cream, and greek yogurt. I was surprised that I liked the buttermilk version the best, as it was the lowest fat option. Something about the flavor just works in this cake. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can certainly use an equal amount of sour cream or greek yogurt instead in a pinch.
So, here’s the recipe for this very good, very dependable rhubarb cake. Thanks for being here – I truly appreciate it.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 cup buttermilk*
- 3/4 lb rhubarb trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut diagonally into 2-inch segments
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted (for brushing)
- 1 tablespoon turbinado or granulated sugar (for sprinkling)
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9-inch springform pan and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium speed until fully incorporated after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat briefly to combine.
- Add a third of the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined, then add half the buttermilk and beat on low speed again. Repeat with remaining third of flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, and end with the last third of the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until the batter is smooth, but do not overmix.
- Scrape batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth it out with a spatula. Arrange the sliced rhubarb over the top in any pattern you desire – I liked a chevron pattern. Brush the rhubarb evenly with the melted butter, then sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp sugar.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until edges of cake are browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely before serving.