Good neighbors are a wonderful thing to have, and we’re lucky to have quite a few of them. But our friends across the street are the absolute best. They care for our animals when we’re away, they let us borrow their hatchet, and they even drop by with surprise deliveries of spring flowers and little custard tarts. And did I mention the rhubarb?
They dropped off some for us to plant on Mother’s Day, which is now taking off in the garden — and they’ve brought at least 5 pounds of beautiful, unblemished rhubarb stalks for me to cook with since.
A decade ago, I might not have been so excited about this. I didn’t hate rhubarb, but I wasn’t a huge fan. Until I got some in a CSA* delivery a few years ago, and I tried a cake recipe from the yellow book to “get rid of it.”
The recipe included anise, another of those ingredients that fell into the “Meh” category for me, but I threw it in anyway. Good thing, because it highlighted the rhubarb perfectly. It was love at first bite.
I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit over the years; my pan tends to fit a little less rhubarb than it calls for, so I cut down the amount of sugar in the cake. The sweetness of brown sugar against with the tart rhubarb and buttery, eggy cake is absolute perfection. And I still have rhubarb in the fridge, so on the agenda this weekend is testing this cake in my smaller cast iron pans. I’d call it portion control, but with this cake, that’s a joke.
- 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1-1/2 pound rhubarb stalks, cut into 1" pieces
- 1 teaspoon anise seeds
- 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk + 1/4 cup whole milk (I use 3/4 cup sour milk, but only do this if you have safe raw milk -- never pasteurized.)
- Well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron pan
- Mortar and pestle or spice grinder
- Electric mixer
- Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 350F.
- Heat butter in skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low, sprinkle brown sugar evenly across bottom of pan and cook without stirring for 3 minutes (not all the sugar will be melted.)
- Remove skillet from heat and arrange rhubarb in skillet, rounded edge down, in a single layer. I start from the center and work my way out, packing them as tightly as possible. Set pan aside.
- Finely grind anise seeds, and sift together with flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl.
- Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about 1 minute. Then, beat in vanilla.
- Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Reduce speed to low and add half of the flour mixture, followed by the milk and buttermilk, then the rest of the flour. Mix until just combined; do not overmix.
- Spoon batter over the rhubarb in evenly spaced mounds, then gently spread it out (be careful not to disturb the rhubarb.)
- Bake 35-45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in skillet on a baking rack for 15 minutes.
- Run a knife around the edge of the cake and invert a plate over it. Then, put on oven mitts and keep the skillet and plate firmly pressed together as you flip them over. Carefully lift skillet off of cake and replace any rhubarb stuck to the bottom.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
Adapted from Gourmet.
*CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, meaning you buy a share in a farm at the beginning of the season and then get fresh produce as it comes into season. If you have this in your area, I highly recommend it — I tried (and loved) a lot of vegetables that I might not have otherwise, plus it’s a great way to support your local farmers.