Only the Color Is a Washout: Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

I was still smarting a bit from my recent experience with a disappointing rhubarb tart when I spotted some gorgeous rhubarb at the farmer's market last weekend. I couldn't help myself and I bought three pounds. Then I came home and scoured my cookbooks for rhubarb ideas. While I was tempted by several other rhubarb tart recipes, I decided to take a completely different route and try Emily Luchetti's recipe for "Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake" from Four-Star Desserts.

I had enough rhubarb to make two cakes. You clean and slice the rhubarb into 3/4-inch pieces, toss them with sugar, and then spread the rhubarb into the bottom of a 9-inch by 3-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. For each cake, you toss one and a quarter pounds of sliced rhubarb with 3/4 cup of sugar; there was so much sugar that it looked like the rhubarb was coated with snow. Then you make a cake batter from butter, dark brown sugar, vanilla, milk, flour, baking powder, salt, spices (cinnamon, ginger, and cloves), sugar, and egg whites. You beat the egg whites separately with sugar to soft peaks and fold them into the batter at the end, so the batter was light and airy. You spread the batter on top of the rhubarb and bake.

If you make this recipe, you do have to use a 3-inch high pan as specified. The cake rose quite a bit in the oven and it would have overflowed a 2-inch high pan (although it sank a bit upon cooling). I turned out the cakes after they had cooled for about 20 minutes, as directed. The color of the rhubarb was washed out after baking and I thought the cakes were rather homely; I was not optimistic about how they would taste. Tom and I each sampled a warm slice and we were both surprised at how much we loved the cake.

The cake itself is wonderful -- springy, tender, and very moist, with a light touch of spice. I usually don't like spice cake, but the delicate flavor of the cake was comforting and homey. The rhubarb is almost a secondary garnish. To be honest, if I ate a piece of this cake blindfolded and didn't know what it was, I'm not sure if I would be able to identify it as rhubarb. The rhubarb is completely soft after cooking, and it had a nondescript fruity-tart flavor. But the juiciness of the rhubarb definitely makes this cake more interesting (it basically contains its own sauce, typical of an upside-down cake) and its flavor complements the cake well.

Overall, I was very happy with this cake. While it was particularly tasty while warm, it was still quite good the next day. I have to think that the cake would be delicious with other fruits as well. This cake might not look like much, but there is definitely more going on here than meets the eye.

Recipe: "Ruhbarb Upside-Down Cake" from Four-Star Desserts, by Emily Luchetti.

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