Two years ago I was in the south of France at the beginning of spring. There was asparagus everywhere. All different sizes and colors. There were french radishes too and perfect baby artichokes in a shade of purple that reminded me of velvet. I’d never paid too much attention to spring produce before. I had grown up with tomato season, the kind where we had such a surplus my job was leaving full grocery bags on the doorsteps of our neighbors. Then there was pumpkin season that also came with apples, which meant apple pie. But spring was lost on me until I stood in the early morning sunshine in Nice looking at row after row of all that spring had to offer.
When I returned to the US in May, I found myself in Washington at a farmers’ market surrounded by even more perfect asparagus, the first garlic scapes of the year and piles of rhubarb. I had been wanting to get my hands on some rhubarb for weeks. The only other time I had bought rhubarb before was to make strawberry rhubarb pie for a boyfriend’s birthday in college. That was my understanding of the purpose of rhubarb, you put it with strawberries and a lot of sugar. However, thanks to the food blogging community around the world I found out about the endless possibilities that lay hidden in those deep red stalks. When I got my bunches home I was so excited and a little overwhelmed. I had saved 30 different rhubarb recipes in the last month, I didn’t know where to start.
This has become a theme in my seasonal cooking. There are certain things that are the crown jewels of such a limited window of time each year. I spend weeks, sometimes months (ahem, tomatoes) waiting for their arrival and when they finally come I’m almost a bit shell shocked that they’ve actually materialized in my kitchen.
This year I got caught up in the throes of a love affair with ramps and neglected my poor friend rhubarb until this week. I kept thinking back to this simple cake I’d made with my Washington rhubarb two years ago. I had every intention of making it again, but when I found myself chopping rhubarb in the first wisps of morning this week, my mind wandered to cornmeal and then down the rabbit hole of recipe development I went.
This cake is everything I was hoping for when my mind started it’s wander. It is a bit toothy. It’s dense. It has moisture for days and it’s a bit sweeter than I might normally allot myself in weekday bakes. But it’s rhubarb season which means winter has really and truly come to an end and upside down cake feels like the right way to celebrate that feat.
- 1 pound rhubarb
- 1 cup coconut sugar, separated*
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- One medium to large lemon, zested and juice from half, separated
- Wet Ingredients
- A little less than one cup plant based milk
- 1 tablespoon ground flax
- ¼ cup canola or olive oil
- ¼ cup applesauce
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- Dry Ingredients
- 1 cup oat flour, plus one tablespoon, separated**
- ¾ cup cornmeal
- ¼ cup almond flour
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- For Serving
- unsweetened thick greek yogurt or coconut yogurt, if vegan (optional)
- Remove tough ends of rhubarb stalks. Slice rhubarb into long thin ribbons with a chef’s knife or vegetable knife. Cut ribbons into about 3-4 inch pieces in length. Toss in a medium bowl with ½ cup of coconut sugar, cornstarch and lemon zest. Set aside for about 20-30 minutes, mixing every so often.
- Squeeze juice from half a lemon into a measuring cup. This will be about 1-2 tablespoons worth depending on your lemon. Fill measuring cup to one cup mark with plant based milk. Stir and set aside to curdle for 10 minutes. You just made vegan ‘buttermilk.’
- In a small dish, mix 1 tablespoon ground flax with 2 ½ tablespoons of water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes. You just made a flax ‘egg.’
- Grease and line a 9” springform pan with parchment paper. Line a baking sheet with foil and place prepared springform pan on top.
- Preheat oven to 350˙F.
- In a medium bowl whisk together 1 cup oat flour with cornmeal, almond flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
- In a medium bowl, combine curdled milk, flax egg, remaining half cup of coconut sugar, oil, applesauce and almond extract until uniform. Fold in dry ingredients with a spatula, stirring to combine, but not over-mix. Let rest for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, line the bottom of your springform pan with the softened rhubarb. You can make an elaborate pattern or I chose to make a roughly even overlapping layer with all pieces facing the same direction. It’s ok if you have enough rhubarb to start a second layer, I did. There will be quite a bit of juice left in your bowl. Mix your remaining tablespoon of oat flour into it with a fork, ensuring it mostly dissolves. Pour into the pan over your rhubarb. Using a spatula scrape your batter over the top of the rhubarb. The batter should be fairly pourable but still thick. Carefully smooth it out as needed trying not to disrupt your rhubarb layer.
- Bake in the middle rack of your over for about 50-60 minutes, until the edges begin to pull away from the sides and cracks form on the top. You can alternately do the toothpick test however, the denseness of this cake means it will likely never be completely clean, so use that as more of a gauge.
- Remove springform pan from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and then remove the outside ring. Allow to cool completely then place your serving dish upside down on your cake, ensuring the cake is centered. Invert your cake and serving dish in one motion. Now your rhubarb layer should be upright. Remove your parchment paper.
- Serve at room temperature alone or with a thick lashing of yogurt if you fancy, but it was delicious alone. Store at room temperature covered. This cake is so moist (everyone's favorite word) it can be made a day ahead and stored covered at room temperature.
**If you don't have oat flour, I'm sure you could substitute an all purpose gluten free flour or all-purpose flour.