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Scandinavian Rhubarb Cake

What better way to celebrate spring than to bake a rhubarb cake. This beautifully rustic cake is quick to make and ready to serve in just over an hour. It has a soft crumb just strong enough to support the lemon-tart-tang of the fresh rhubarb topping. The rhubarb is tamed with a small amount of sugar and fragrant cardamom.

This is an easy rhubarb cake so you can quickly savor the moment the crimson stalks are long enough to harvest. Remember to twist and pull the stalks of the plant, don’t cut them. When the cake is ready, take a slice outside with a cup of hot coffee to warm you up enough for the fresh spring air.

rhubarb on a wooden cutting board with a knife and a small glass bowl
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The Culinary History of Rhubarb

In the US, rhubarb is deemed the “pie plant,” but its long history shows that it’s much more than just a filler for pie.

Rhubarb is a perennial plant and one of the first harvests of spring. It thrives in a cool, northern climate, which is why it’s become a staple of spring Scandinavian recipes. The leaves aren’t edible, but the pink and green stalks are popular for their tart zing.

While its origin is not entirely known, it seems that rhubarb was originally cultivated in China. The plant was an important herb in traditional Chinese medicine. During the medieval spice trade, it made its way to Europe and was one of the most expensive goods traded on the Silk Road. It was valued higher than saffron.

By the 18th century rhubarb was grown in the cool climates of Scandinavia and Great Britain. It wasn’t until the industrialization of sugar in the 19th century that rhubarb began to enter the kitchen. Once sour rhubarb could be affordably placated with sugar, it quickly made its way into spring cakes and pies.

a slice of rhubarb cake on a white plate with a coffee mug, knife, and cake stand
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Tips for Making Rhubarb Cake

  • The mixing method may seem a bit backwards, but it results in a light-textured cake that’s still rich with butter.
  • Start by beating the eggs with the sugar until foamy and 3 to 4 times its original volume.
  • Then, fold in the dry ingredients, being careful to maintain the delicate aerated structure of the batter.
  • Finally, the melted butter and milk are folded in. Stop mixing as soon as the batter is combined.
  • The rhubarb is tossed with just enough sugar to tone down the sour flavor, but maintain a tartness similar to a lemon tart or lemon curd.
  • A springform pan is best for this recipe; it will be easier to remove and slice cleanly. You may use a regular cake pan, but it may stick to the pan a bit more.
rhubarb cake on a cake stand and a slice of cake on a white plate on a wood table
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Ingredients:

MetricCups
CAKE:
2 large eggs
200g sugar

180g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

115g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
60ml whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

RHUBARB TOPPING:
350g rhubarb, sliced into 1.5cm segments
50g sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
CAKE:
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

RHUBARB TOPPING:
3 cups rhubarb, sliced into 1.5cm segments
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1. Preheat the oven:

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Butter the bottom of a 9-inch (24cm) springform pan, line it with parchment paper, then butter and flour the parchment paper and sides of the pan.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt:

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Whip the eggs:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or a large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes pale yellow and expands 3 to 4 times the original volume.

4. Fold in the flour mixture:

Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the flour mixture into the beaten eggs. Whipping the eggs and sugar builds a fragile aerated structure, by working carefully you prevent losing too much volume.

5. Fold in the butter:

Fold the melted butter, milk, and vanilla extract into the batter, again working quickly but gently to preserve as much volume as possible. Stop mixing as soon as it’s combined.

6. Make the rhubarb topping:

Toss the sliced rhubarb with the sugar and cardamom in a mixing bowl.

cake batter with rhubarb topping in a springform pan
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Bake the cake:

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and distribute the rhubarb evenly over the top. Bake in the preheated oven at for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

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