Last weekend gave me other blessings beyond rest—things like roasted garlic hummus (twice! plus some roasted red pepper!) and a new cake plate I bought at the local antique store and, as a real surprise, an hour-long conversation with strangers who felt like old friends at a brunch in Eagle River Sunday.
Also, the morning that we left, just before Bailey and I walked through the forest one last time, I knelt by the same thick and leafy rhubarb plants that had provided the base for the crumble I made here recently, the one I ate with vanilla ice cream, after my parents brought back a bag of rhubarb Memorial Day weekend. I snipped a few dozen stalks, firm and strong, mostly green with flecks of pink at the bases, pulling away their leaves and arranging them in a white plastic bag.
As it turned out, the fruit was exactly what I needed to make this rhubarb coffee cake, or, now that I’ve eaten most of it, let’s just say THE rhubarb coffee cake. It’s honestly maybe the best I’ve had, so the definite article seems appropriate—beyond that, my mind gets all fuzzy and my tongue gets tied, and I’m all “mmm” and “wow,” scooping big crumbs from my plate.
This fairly simple recipe yields a moist and flavorful coffee cake with basically three components: the sweet cake, the tart rhubarb and the thick layer of crumbs. Yet the sum makes something so much greater than the parts. If you ask me, it’s the crumbs—big, chunky pieces made of sugars, spices, butter and flour—that will have you reaching for piece after piece.
By the way, if you want further endorsement, I’ll add that I gave this to three people, one of whom was hesitant, one who isn’t sure she likes rhubarb (“It’s green?”) and one who, after tasting a bite of someone else’s, asked me to cut a very, very large slice because “this is the best thing you’ve made—a 10.” I might have to agree.
Two notes about the ingredients: 1) You’ll see this recipe calls for cake flour, which is exactly what I started using when making the crumbs, but when I ran out, I switched to all-purpose, and the combination worked beautifully, so feel free to improvise. 2) The original recipe calls for half a pound of rhubarb to chop, so if you’re buying it in the store and wondering how much to buy, there’s a number. I just went with what I had from the garden, which worked out to be pretty close.
Butter for greasing pan
For the rhubarb filling:
1 1/3 cups chopped rhubarb
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
For the crumbs:
1/3 cup dark brown sugar (I used light)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
For the cake:
1/3 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan, and set it aside.
Make the filling: Slice rhubarb into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and toss in a bowl with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.
Make the crumbs: Whisk sugars, spices and salt in a large bowl, and then add flour with a spatula or a wooden spoon. Cut in the butter. It will start to look like a crumbly mixture that you can press together into a solid dough. Push it all into the bottom of the bowl, and leave it pressed. Set aside.
Make the cake: First, combine the wet ingredients (sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla) in a small bowl. Then, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of the sour cream mixture, and mix on medium speed until flour is a little moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add the rest of the sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula.
Scoop out about half of the batter* into the prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over the batter. Dollop the rest of the batter over the rhubarb—don’t worry about it being even.
Next, add the crumbs. Using your fingers, break the dough-like mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. It’s not that they need to be exactly the same size, but that is just an idea to aim for so that they’ll be large crumbs. Sprinkle them over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), about an hour**. Cool completely before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
*The original instructions say to scoop out half a cup of batter and set it aside to dollop later. I, however, didn’t read the instructions correctly and did things differently. I gave you directions the way I did it because, honestly, this coffee cake was so good, I will always do it exactly this way in the future.
**It may be my oven, but after I set the timer for 45 minutes, I kept checking it for at least another 15, maybe longer, before the toothpick came out clean and the top started to brown.