I never need an excuse to cook with rhubarb. It is, I think, my absolute favourite fruit, or at least the one which brings me most joy when I first spot it in the shops in early January. Its flash of vibrant colour feels deliciously out of place in these dark, gloomy days, and seems to point towards brighter times to come. It’s still pale at the moment, flamingo-pink, or fuschia if you find a really great batch, but soon it will turn carmine, with green-tinges down its stems.
I find myself buying a bundle of the stalks every time I come across them, almost without thinking, as if my subconscious is eager to make the most of the fruit while it’s around. I like to preserve it as best I can, turning it into jams or compotes, ice creams and gins, to eke out through the year after its season is over. But as appealing as it is to lengthen its culinary lifetime, it seems a shame not to use it when it’s sitting, ripe and ready, in front of you. Here, I like to bake it into a cake, which makes the most of its gorgeous colour and its distinctive sweet-sourness.
Of course, the classic upside down cake is pineapple, but you can use a whole host of fruits, and upside down cakes are a great way of incorporating fruit into cakes or puddings without turning the crumb soggy. And rhubarb is a great one to choose: sharp where the yoghurt and vanilla-scented cake is mellow, but stewing and softening in the brown butter and sugar until it is slightly caramelised.
This cake is good cold, but really spectacular warm (I actually prefer to allow it to cool completely, cut clean, firm slices, and then rewarm those slices), served with a splash of cream or custard.
Rhubarb upside down cake
Makes: 1 8-inch cake (8 portions)
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: 40 minutes
For the base
50g light brown sugar
For the cake
190g self raising flour
120g plain yoghurt
½ teaspoon vanilla paste
- Heat the oven to 180°C. Cut the rhubarb to fit your tin, in whatever pattern you wish. Cut a circle of greaseproof paper and line the base of a snugly-fitting loose-bottomed cake tin, or a deep, metal pie dish. Melt the butter and sugar together and cover the bottom of the lined tin with the mixture. Place the rhubarb on top of the butter-sugar mix.
- Cream together the second lot of butter and sugar, and add the vanilla, and then the eggs one by one, beating them into the mixture. Fold in the self raising flour and yoghurt. Spoon this batter on top of the rhubarb and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the sponge is risen, golden, and springs back when pressed gently with a finger.
- As soon as the cake’s out of the oven, run the back of a knife around the edge of the cake tin to loosen, then leave it to rest for ten minutes. If you’re using a tin with a removable base, push the base up through the rest of the tin, and place a serving plate on top of the cake. Upend with confidence so that the cake is now the right way up on the plate. Remove the tin base from the cake, carefully sliding a knife between it and the fruit if it is reluctant to release.