Rhubarb fever is still raging at our house.
Jammed, stewed, roasted, chutneyed or magicked into pudding, we just can’t get enough of the gorgeous pink stems around here. Although I’ve just returned from an incredible food tour of Belfast, and my fridge is bursting with fine produce from Northern Ireland that I’m dying to cook with, I feel the need to take advantage of rhubarb’s blushing presence at my greengrocer while I can.
My grandfather grew rhubarb in his garden in Sydney and as a child I loved watching him cut the fibrous juicy stems that he would parcel up in brown paper for us to take home, along with bundles of runner beans and bunches of heavenly sweet peas. My mother would chop the rhubarb into pieces, sprinkle it with sugar, roast it until tender (but still holding its shape – she’s a stickler for this) and serve it warm with vanilla ice cream. It was the beginning of an addiction.
Although it’s beautiful roasted or stewed with sugar and a squeeze of orange juice, it’s a versatile ‘fruit’ (yes, I know it’s actually a vegetable) that can be enjoyed in lots of different sweet or savoury ways. I fancy making Niamh Shields’ (aka Eat Like A Girl) recipe for rhubarb cordial, as well as the sublime rhubarb floats made with a spiced rhubarb syrup featured on the food blog Not Without Salt. Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall has some lovely suggestions for rhubarb, including a nice spin on the classic pairing with mackerel (he adds a little thyme to the stewed chopped stems).
Earlier in the rhubarb season, when the sublime pink stalks were a welcome flash of cheer during the endless cold and grey, Imen McDonnell, author of the beautiful Farmette food blog, tweeted about the winning rhubarb and vanilla jam she had just made. It became my business to do the same and since then my daughter and I have enjoyed greedy quantities of rhubarb jam on toast for breakfast (as a second course to our stewed rhubarb and yoghurt).
Imen went on to use a lovely slick of her rhubarb jam between layers of duck egg Victoria sponge (see her terrific recipe), but in my cake I’ve actually used jam in the batter and on top for a glaze. It’s based on a Valentina Harris recipe for crushed orange and almond cake that was very kindly passed on to me by the lovely food stylist Karyn Booth, who I met during my recent trip to Belfast. Karyn was making the orange and almond cake as part of a stupendous wedding cake tower, but although the marriage of citrus, almonds and cake is just up my street, I’m in rhubarb mode.
This cake is quite dense, very moist and delicious with a spoonful of cream on the side and even a little of the rhubarb compote. It might seem like a faff to make both rhubarb jam, stewed rhubarb and cake but actually it’s not and I reckon you’ll be happy that you did. Get the compote on the go and while it’s roasting, cook the jam. (This recipe will make more jam and compote than you need for the cake.) That way you’ll have rhubarb jam, compote and cake from one simple cooking session. A rhubarb addict couldn’t ask for more. To be sure.
Rhubarb Jam Cake
For the jam (based on a recipe by Imen McDonnell)
- 500g trimmed rhubarb, chopped into 3cm pieces
- 300g sugar jam
- the scraped out seeds from 1 vanilla pod
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- a squeeze of lemon
For the compote
- 350g trimmed rhubarb, chopped into 3cm pieces
- 100g soft brown sugar
- zest and juice of 1 orange
For the cake
- 175g butter
- 175g caster sugar
- 4 eggs, separated
- 100g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 100g ground almonds
- 200ml rhubarb puree
- 4 tablespoons rhubarb jam, plus extra for the glaze
1. Set the oven to 180°C. Lightly oil a 20cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
2. Place the ingredients for the compote in a baking tray and toss together. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender but still holding its shape. When the rhubarb has cooled a little, transfer about half to the bowl of a food processor and blitz to a puree. Measure out 200ml of the puree for the cake.
3. Meanwhile, place the ingredients for the jam in a heavy-based pan with a splash of water and cook gently, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves and the rhubarb starts to release its juices. When all the ingredients have amalgamated and the mixture has liquefied, turn up the heat to medium and let it bubble away until thick and jammy, about 15 minutes. Leave to cool and then transfer to clean jam jars.
4. To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, add the egg yolks and beat well. Sieve the flour and baking powder together and then fold in the ground almonds. Mix the dry ingredients and the rhubarb puree alternately into the batter. Whisk the egg whites to a soft peak and gently fold into the cake batter.
5. Pour half the batter into the prepared cake tin, then drizzle over the jam.
Pour over the remaining batter, gently smooth the top and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer or toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. If the top starts to brown too much towards the end of cooking, cover with a sheet of tin foil. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Melt a couple of tablespoons of rhubarb jam in a pan over a gentle heat and brush over the cake while still warm.