Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Recipe: Country Rhubarb Cake

I got this recipe from Gourmet magazine. It's ridiculously easy, and a great opportunity to take advantage of rhubarb while it's in season. It's more common in Ireland (my point of reference) than here, and it reminds me of the cranberry because it's too tart to eat without a significant amount of sugar. The cake is essentially a receipe for a biscuit, which means that you don't want to overwork the dough. Just mix it until the batter comes together or you'll get a tough bread.

This is home cooking that makes us gluttonous to a fault. It's a delicious combination of tart and sweet. Once we take a bite, we literally can't stop until it's gone. That said, you could easily substitute the rhubarb for another fruit with equal success. We're just too smitten to try any alternatives, yet. I would suggest that if you make the cream, consider omiting the sugar. The cake is sweet enough, and you're looking for the velvety quality of the cream, not the added sugar. Besides, cream whisked with whiskey is impossibly delicious, but that's just me.

Country Rhubarb Cake

Serves 6-8
Active time: 35 minutes
Start to finish: 1 1/4 hour

For cake
1 lb fresh rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (3 cups) or 3 cups frozen rhubarb, thawed after measuring
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar (optional: 2 additional tablespoons to sprinkle on cake)
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup whole milk
2 large eggs (1 separated)

For whiskey cream
1 cup chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon whiskey (preferably Irish)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make cake:
Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 400F. Butter a 10-inch glass or ceramic pie plate or a 2 1/2-quart oval gratin dish and chill.

Toss rhubarb with brown sugar in a bowl until coated.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar in a large bowl until combined well. Blend in butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles damp sand.
In a small bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together milk, whole egg, and yolk.
Make a well in center of flour mixture and add milk mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon to gradually incorpporate flour and form a soft, sticky dough.

Transfer half of dough to chilled pie plate and pat out over bottom and halfway up side with well-floured hands, then spoon rhubarb and any juices onto dough. Using a tablespoon, spoon remaining dough in small mounds evenly over top.

Optional: Lightly beat egg white with a few drops of water, then lightly brush cake with egg wash. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar over top.

Bake cake until top crust is golden and rhubarb is tender, 30-40 minutes. Transfer to rack to cook, about 30 minutes.

Make whiskey cream:
Beat cream with confectioners sugar, whiskey, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer until it forms stiff peaks (whipped cream peak that hold its shape and clings tightly to the end of the beater or whisk).

Serve cake warm or at room temperature with whiskey cream.

Cooks' note:
Cake can be made 4 hours ahead and cooled completely, then kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature. Reheat if desired.