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