Rhubarb Crumb Cake

Spring has officially sprung, and there are very few foods or ingredients that scream spring to me more than rhubarb. As one of the first harvests of the year, rhubarb season peaks in April and May, and sometimes disappears from the grocery store by early summer. Since rhubarb can have such a small window of opportunity, I try to take advantage of using it when I find it. Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie is always a favorite, but when I was lucky enough to find rhubarb so early in the season while down in Florida, I wanted to try something different. While I have never been a big fan of traditional cake in the “cake and ice cream” sense, I am a huge fan of coffee cakes and crumb cakes. I did some thinking and decided that a rhubarb crumb cake could indeed be a fabulous addition to my springtime recipe repertoire.

I did a little searching around and found this recipe in the New York Times for a rhubarb “big crumb” coffee cake. It sounded pretty much exactly what I was looking for so I wasted no time getting into the kitchen. I chopped rhubarb, made the crumbs, mixed the batter, and popped it into the oven. It ended up being what I like to refer to as a delicious failure. It took way longer to bake than the recipe stated and the crumbs sank into the middle of the cake, so there ended up being some cake, a layer of the crumb topping, and then more cake on top. It tasted great, but it was no crumb cake. I did some thinking, some research, and prepared for troubleshooting round number two of the rhubarb crumb cake. Below are the problems I identified and how I changed the recipe the second time around:

Problem #1:Tossing the rhubarb with sugar caused it to release its juices. The recipe didn’t state to drain it, so I used everything in the batter. I think this was part of the problem, as there was just way too much liquid, which caused it to take too long to bake.

Solution: I still tossed the rhubarb with the sugar and other ingredients, but then removed it with a slotted spoon and discarded excess juices.

Problem #2: The original recipe had a layering of batter, then rhubarb, then more batter. I didn’t think this was really necessary, and suspected it may have had something to do with the batter rising to the top of the cake, overtaking the crumb topping.

Solution: I didn’t incorporate separate layers into the cake when putting it into the pan. Instead, after the rhubarb was drained I tossed it with flour   (which helps to keep add-ins from sinking to the bottom of a batter) and then folded it into the cake batter, adding it all at once to the pan.

Problem #3: The sinking crumb topping.

Solution: My approach to remedying this was two-fold. First, I thought that perhaps the crumb mixture was too warm when it was added to the top of the cake, and therefore melted and sunk into the batter. Once I melted the butter, I let it cool off a bit so it was still warm to the touch, but not piping hot when I mixed in the other ingredients. I then set a timer for 15 minutes and didn’t add it to the top of the cake before then, giving it time to cool off even further. Secondly, I thought that perhaps the cake was a little too heavy, and replaced the sour cream with buttermilk, which is what my favorite crumb cake recipe calls for. I thought it might create a lighter cake, allowing the crumb topping to sit nicely on top, instead of overtaking them.

After all of those notes and fine-tuning the recipe, I ended up with a hybrid of the New York Times recipe and my favorite New York-Style Crumb Cake, with my own spin thrown in. The result was the crumb cake I had originally envisioned and was hoping I could create. The cake was light and moist, it was studded with sweetened rhubarb, and topped with a thick layer of delicious crumbs.

It’s the perfect springtime crumb cake.

And it’s totally acceptable to eat for breakfast, as well as for dessert.

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Frigidaire. When you check out Suzanne Goin’s springtime recipes at www.maketimeforchange.com, Frigidaire will donate $1 to Save the Children’s U.S. programs. Plus, you’ll be entered for a chance to win the new Frigidaire Range with Symmetry™ Double Ovens– featuring two large ovens (that can each fit up to a 28 pound turkey!), providing the flexibility to cook multiple dishes at the same time at different temperatures, so you can get more on the table at the same time.

Rhubarb Crumb Cake

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


For the Crumb Topping:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1¾ cups cake flour

For the Rhubarb:
1½ cups small-diced rhubarb
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

For the Cake:
1¼ cups cake flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
Powdered sugar, for dusting


1. For the Crumb Topping: Whisk the granulated sugar, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt into the melted butter in a medium bowl to combine. Add the flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, at least 10 to 15 minutes.

2. For the Rhubarb: Toss the rhubarb with the sugar, cornstarch, and ginger in a small bowl until evenly coated; set aside.

3. For the Cake: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper, pushing it into corners and up sides; allow excess to overhang edges of dish.

4. With an electric mixer on low speed, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With the mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until the mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl once if necessary.

5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the rhubarb from the bowl where it will have released some juice. Add the drained rhubarb to a clean bowl. Toss the rhubarb with the 2 teaspoons of all-purpose flour, coating it evenly. Add the rhubarb to the cake batter and gently fold it into the batter using a rubber spatula.

6. Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan; using a rubber spatula, spread the batter into an even layer. Break apart the crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter, beginning with the edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.


50 Responses to “Rhubarb Crumb Cake”

  1. Averie @ Averie Cooks on March 23, 2012 at 12:23 am

    My neighbors growing up used to have SO much rhubarb in their garden and they’d give it away…if only I could take some of it now..and make this cake!


  2. Kammie @ Sensual Appeal on March 23, 2012 at 12:46 am

    It turned out great, but seems like too many possible problems might happen, I don’t think I’m experienced enough for this yet haha. I don’t remember the last time I’ve had rhubarb though, I need to try it soon!


    • Michelle on March 31st, 2012 at 9:41 pm

      Hi Kammie, I didn’t mean to give the impression that this particular recipe was difficult. I was merely sharing the troubleshooting that I did with the recipe I had an issue with. The one here was definitely successful and not difficult. I hope you’ll give it a try!


  3. Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes on March 23, 2012 at 1:24 am

    I like how you made the original recipe your own by putting your own spin on it. It looks great! So unique…


  4. Annie @ Naturally Sweet Recipes on March 23, 2012 at 1:24 am

    I have yet to make a rhubarb treat! I love the flavor, I don’t know what’s kept me. This sounds amazing! And it looks incredible. A nice change from the pies and crisps!


  5. Asia on March 23, 2012 at 3:02 am

    ooo how I like rhubarb. I love this cake already 🙂


  6. Kiri W. on March 23, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Yay! Makes me happy to see rhubarb used 🙂 Looks like a great crumb cake.


  7. Lauren at Keep It Sweet on March 23, 2012 at 6:13 am

    This really is a perfect springtime cake, yum!


  8. My CookBook on March 23, 2012 at 6:34 am

    This looks tasty and pictures are great. I have to try this one. Thnx for sharing.


  9. Katrina on March 23, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I love baking with rhubarb, and this recipe sounds so yummy!


  10. Erin @ Brownie Bites on March 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

    I have also had difficulty with crumb toppings sinking into my cakes/breads. I like your tips for remedying that!


  11. Ally on March 23, 2012 at 9:38 am

    All your solutions were really helpful! Beautiful crumb cake… I love rhubarb! I would love to try this out.


  12. Amber on March 23, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I love rhubarb. Reminds me of home (Iowa). During the spring, my step-dad would come home with tons of rhubarb. We always had rhubarb pie. This sounds so delicious. Must try!


  13. Mi Vida en un Dulce on March 23, 2012 at 9:47 am

    You know something, I saw a lot of recipes made with rhubarb, I’m trying to find it here in Peru and each time I asked for it people just looked me with that face as if your are asking from something out of space. So, I think I can make this recibe without it, right?


  14. Amber, RD on March 23, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Look at you go with your problems and solutions! Someone’s been reading Cook’s Illustrated! 🙂
    I love rhubarb, and strawberry rhubarb pie is also my favorite. But I love trying new rhubarb dishes. Thanks for the cake recipe; I can’t wait to make it! Lucky for me my neighbor grows a ton of rhubarb and gives me all I can handle!


  15. Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Pepper on March 23, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I am probably one of the only people around that has never had rhubarb. I am not sure what it even tatses like. Your recipe looks great! You did a great job with fixing up the cake!


    • Michelle on March 31st, 2012 at 9:42 pm

      I just had it for the first time a few years ago. Definitely give it a go!


  16. Cookin' Canuck on March 23, 2012 at 10:23 am

    My husband was looking over my shoulder when I opened this post and he let loose a loud, “Yum!” Rhubarb is a favorite in this house and we will definitely be making this beautiful crumb cake.


  17. Grubarazzi (@Grubarazzi) on March 23, 2012 at 11:02 am

    This looks so moist and delectable. I love that this has rhubarb and ginger. what a great combination. I’ll have to keep this in mind when I start seeing it at the farmer’s markets.


  18. Margie on March 23, 2012 at 11:11 am

    As soon as rhubarb is in season here, the traditional strawberry rhubarb pie will have to wait, because this is the first thing I will be making.
    I cannot wait! Thanks so much for sharing this recipe!


  19. Corina on March 23, 2012 at 11:13 am

    We used to have rhubarb in the garden when I was a child and I really wish it was still so easy to get hold of. I love the sound of this cake.


  20. Elly @ Nutmegs, seven on March 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

    This is exactly my kind of cake! I made something very similar using blackberries and apples last autumn, but I love the idea of using rhubarb. The combination of rhubarb and crumb topping is just amazing – I combined it with a cheesecake recently to great effect!


  21. Jen of My Tiny Oven on March 23, 2012 at 11:53 am

    This is the first Rhubarb recipe I have seen this year, and it looks amazing! I love rhubarb!!


  22. Lacy on March 23, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Sadly I’ve never even touched rhubarb! I need to get with the times! This crumb cake looks fantastic. The actual crumb part is totally calling my name right now! YUM!!


  23. Laura Dembowski on March 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    I love rhubarb! I have had success making Martha Stewart’s Rhubarb Crumb Bars without any of the issues you mentioned with this recipe. Those crumb bars are actually one of my favorite recipes of all time. Here’s the link to them on Martha Stewart’s website in case you’re interested: http://www.marthastewart.com/312987/rhubarb-crumb-bars


    • Michelle on March 31st, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      Thanks for sharing! I will definitely give those a try!


  24. Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking on March 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I love that you used rhubarb for this crumb cake – it looks absolutely beautiful and delicious! Very spring-inspired, too! Thanks for sharing. Also, I’m having a great giveaway today with four potential prize winners, so you should enter!


  25. jules on March 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    OMG!! RHUBARB….Oh I just cant wait. It wont be ready here in WIS. untill around May!!! I will have to go through my rhubarb recipes and send you my favorite!


  26. Kristin on March 23, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    So I have a question – I am planning on baking a coffee/crumb cake for Easter using the crumb topping from the New York-Style Crumb Cake but a different recipe for the cake. I really love both which is why I wanted to do a hybrid of some sort. Anyways, the cake recipe calls for sour cream and now I am worried based on your experience above. Do you think it won’t work with the crumb topping??

    Thanks! Have a happy weekend!


    • Michelle on March 31st, 2012 at 9:45 pm

      Hi Kristin, I couldn’t say for sure without testing the actual recipe. I will say, though, that I have made tons of cakes with sour cream that usually come out fabulous (nice and moist). There were other factors at play with the original recipe. I would use the sour cream, but just make sure that the crumb topping isn’t too warm before adding it to the top of the batter.


  27. Em (Wine and Butter) on March 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    I absolutely adore rhubarb and love having it with meat even – rhubarb and pork is totally delicious. Although poss not quite as good as this cake!! 🙂


  28. Stephanie @ Eat. Drink. Love. on March 23, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    You did a great job nailing down the recipe because this cake looks awesome!


  29. Jill on March 23, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    Rhubarb is growing in my garden ( as we speak) I froze some from last year and put it in my baked oatmeal throughout the winter months. I love the tang of it. Cant want to try this recipe! YUM Thanks for working out the kinks.


  30. Cindy @ Once Upon a Loaf on March 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    I haven’t ever been a big rhubarb fan. However, this crumb cake looks beyond delicious. I’m going to give it a go! Thanks!


  31. Corrine Wright on March 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    that looks yumy!
    Here is my all time favorite rhubarb recipe! Make it every year



  32. Nay on March 25, 2012 at 7:09 pm

    It looks absolutely delicious! 🙂


  33. Melanie on March 26, 2012 at 7:59 am

    Seems a shame to throw out the juices with the sugar and ginger in it. Maybe you could leave it in and cut some of the other liquid in the recipe a little that way you’d still keep all of that flavor.


  34. hannah on March 26, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    This looks so delicious! You are definitely a smart cookie!



  35. Shannon @ sweetlessons on March 29, 2012 at 9:50 am

    I made these into muffins. They were awesome!


  36. Brigette on April 1, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Two questions:
    1. Can I use all-purpose flour instead?
    2. Will this work with frozen rhubarb?


    • Michelle on April 4th, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Brigette, I would not substitute all-purpose flour. It will likely end up giving the cake a dry, tough texture. You can, however, use frozen rhubarb.


  37. Rachel on April 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    You know I had a delicious fail with a NY times crumb cake recipe too. Not sure if it was this rhubarb one or not, cause I threw out the recipe. So if it was the same one, then you’re not alone. 🙂
    Good job on tweaking and refining the recipe. I will definitely try your version of this cake. Looks wonderful.


  38. Jordan Fuselier-Gardner on May 29, 2012 at 9:21 am

    It is funny to think that just three weeks ago I had no idea what rhubarb was and then we moved into a house where it seems to be trying to ‘devour’ the shed. Seriously, that plant is massive.

    I will definitely have to give this one and go the next time my boyfriend’s mom is up as she taught us to make a rhubarb crisp last time. I am a huge fan of anything that says crumble and anything that says cake pretty much. It sounds just absolutely amazing and I’ve gotta find some use for that plant before it grows so big that it takes over the house and kicks me to the couch.

    Little Shop of Horrors comes to mind. 😉


  39. Donna on June 28, 2012 at 3:57 am

    This is definitely brunch this weekend….any chance one can sub frozen rhubarb for fresh if my market is suddenly “out”…which is often the case, alas!?….I absolutely love rhubarb and your phenomenal NYC-style crumb cake….so this looks like a certified “win” in advance…Thank you so much for the time taken to carefully trouble-shoot and explain your technique in its preparation and keeping the marvelous crumb “afloat”….For me…you are THE baking/baker’s reference…


  40. Donna on June 28, 2012 at 4:08 am

    Mea culpa!!…I see that fellow follower Brigitte asked the same question about the frozen rhubarb…and you already answered “yes”!!!…Must have missed that comment!…Thanks anyway…for all you do.


    • Michelle on June 28th, 2012 at 10:27 am

      Hi Donna, No problem! Enjoy the crumb cake!


  41. Sue on June 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Could this be made into cupcakes?


    • Michelle on June 18th, 2013 at 11:49 pm

      Hi Sue, I think so! Make sure to reduce the baking time if you do.


  42. morri on August 11, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    I made it today and… I admit I’m not really impressed with this cake. The batter was extremely thick and the small-diced rhubarb sort of disappeared in it. The baked cake was clogging and dry, without any “pockets” of juicy bits, not like a fruitcake is supposed to be. The quantities in the recipe also got me a ton of crumbs, I could barely fit them on the cake, even though I used a slightly bigger tin.


Leave a Comment

(Your comment may need to be approved before it will appear on the site. Thanks for your patience! If it is your first time commenting you may want to review the Comment Guidelines.)