Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake

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Rhubarb upside down cake serving New Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

 

I am a fan of simple tea cakes. I almost always prefer them to towering layered cakes with mountains of frosting. (Well, with one possible exception: the Vienna Mocha Torte at Rose’s Bakery in Portland, Oregon.) Also, I never again want to see a thick custard layered with cake. Not ever. When Costco started layering their sheet cakes with custard, I knew it was time to take a stand. A warm pudding cake, on the other hand, is quite another proposition and always a treat.
Rhubarb in the pan Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

Tea cakes, bundt cakes, coffee cakes, pudding cakes, and pound cakes were the kind of old-fashioned cake that my farm-raised, Mennonite grandmother always made. “Nothing fancy,” she would say, but fresh from the oven, fragrant, and utterly delicious with a pot of freshly brewed tea.


Grandma Mary liked to put prunes, plums, pears, applesauce, and even jelly into her tea cakes. She always served them plain, with a bowl of whipped cream on the side. My own preference is to include tart fruits, such as rhubarb, sour cherries, apricots, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Just like Grandma though, I like to serve these cakes very simply, with just a dusting of powdered sugar, a poof of whipped cream, and for special occasions, perhaps a drizzle of fruit sauce on the plate

Rhubarb Upside down cake topping in ramekin Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

Somewhere along my baking path (San Francisco, circa 1980s), I discovered Italian pastries and the notion of adding cornmeal to a cake batter. This was not a notion that Grandma had ever entertained. I was hooked from the first golden, crunchy bite.

By now, I have a repertoire of cornmeal cakes, this one being the latest. Over the next few years, I’ll share them all with you. In the spring and summer, I like these simple cakes on the lighter side, almost always with fruit and perhaps with herbs and floral aromatics as well, such as thyme, rose petal, and lavender. In the fall and winter, I like deeper flavors, winter spices, and perhaps crunchy nut streusel layered with the batter and crumbled on top of the cake.

Rhubarb Upside down cake topping and cake batter in ramekin Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

Once you have a basic cake batter that you trust, you can improvise endlessly with it. This cake batter, for instance, incorporates an acidic ingredient (sour cream), which gives the cake an extra tender quality, along with old-fashioned flavor.

 

I love buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, Mexican crema, crème fraîche, and even cream cheese in a cake batter. You should be able to substitute one for another in this recipe, as long as the consistency remains about the same as for sour cream. Cream cheese must be whipped and then thinned with milk before using.
Rhubarb upside down cake hot from the oven Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

Now, a few words to describe this cake. OH! MY! GAWD! Seriously, MauiJim and I were nearly speechless when we put the first bite of this cake into our mouths. When he did finally speak, his exact words were, “This is unbelievable.” We both had a second serving within minutes of eating the first. Let’s see what YOU think. J
Rhubarb upside down cake serving 3 Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside Down Cake

Rhubarb Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake


I can’t decide if I prefer this cake upside-down with the pale pink, glistening rhubarb on top or upside-up with the lovely browned cake on top. I leave it to your discretion.

Whatever you decide, upon your first bite of this anise-scented, tender cake, you won’t care how it looks on the plate.

The ethereally light texture of this cake is the result of the proportions of the ingredients but also, I believe, of the steam that is created from the sauce at the bottom of each ramekin.

 

vegetable spray


Rhubarb Topping

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 cups trimmed, ½-inch diced rhubarb

1 teaspoon anise seed, pulverized with a mortar and pestle


Cake

1¼ cups King Arthur’s all purpose flour

½ cup fine yellow cornmeal

1½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool room temperature

¾ cup superfine sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 large egg yolks, lightly whisked, cool room temperature

¾ cup sour cream, lightly whisked, cool room temperature


Garnish

powdered sugar in a shaker

softly whipped, lightly sweetened heavy cream

Rhubarb Sauce, optional


  1. Coat six, 1¼-cup capacity, ramekins with vegetable spray. Place on an edged baking sheet and reserve.
  2. To make the rhubarb topping, in a small sauté pan, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar. Bring to a full boil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the rhubarb and anise, and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until the rhubarb releases its juice into the sauce.
  4. Evenly distribute the rhubarb and sauce into the ramekins.
  5. To make the cake, sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium mixing bowl. Reserve.
  6. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, with the mixer set at medium speed, cream the butter and sugar until very light and creamy, about 5-6 minutes, scraping the bowl frequently.
  7. Add the vanilla and incorporate.
  8. With the mixer set at medium-slow speed, add the beaten egg yolks, bit by bit, making sure each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next. If the mixture begins to curdle, increase the speed of the mixer.
  9. With the mixer set to slowest speed, add first ¼ of the flour mixture, then 1/3 of the sour cream, and repeat until the last portion of flour is added. Do not overbeat. Just incorporate the flour mixture and sour cream briefly and then finish incorporating by hand with a flexible spatula.
  10. Spoon equal amounts of the cake into each ramekin, filling no more than ¾ full. Using an offset spatula, level the batter in each ramekin.
  11. Bake at 350° for about 25-28 minutes, until the cake is risen, nicely browned on top, and registers 175°-180° at the center of the cake when measured with an instant-read thermometer.
  12. Remove the cakes from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then invert each onto a dessert plate. (Alternatively, you can leave the cakes at cool room temperature up to 2 hours, and then reheat a couple at a time in the microwave for 30-60 seconds to loosen the caramelized fruit.)
  13. Dust each serving with a little powdered sugar, and serve with clouds of whipped cream and Rhubarb Sauce if desired.

Makes 6 individual cakes.


More Rhubarb Posts You Might Enjoy

 

©2009 SMS Bradley. All rights reserved.

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About Susan S. Bradley

Intrepid cook, food writer, culinary instructor, author of Pacific Northwest Palate: Four Seasons of Great Cooking, and founder of the Northwest Culinary Academy.

Comments

  1. I love the idea of individual cakes, but I’m not in the market for ramekins right now. Any suggestions for how to cook this as one big cake, like a 9-inch round cake? Thanks!

    • Chelsea, this cake should work fine in a 9-10-inch cake pan. A similarly sized heavy skillet might work even better though. The curved sides make it easy to turn the cake out of the pan. I frequently bake this type off simple cake in a skillet, especially in the fall with apple and pear toppings. Hope this helps. Let me know how it works out for you. :-)

  2. I think I’m going to add strawberries. I love strawberry rhubarb. This looks great and I wanted to do a corn muffin like dessert so this is perfect. Thanks.

  3. Love this idea! I never like making a full cake just because I would be stuck eating the whole thing. However, this is the perfect individual single guy’s serving size.
    .-= Jeff´s last blog ..Asian style barley =-.

  4. Although I disagree with you about the custard – I could eat custard out of the gutter – these cakes look to die for! My Luna Cafe never lets me down!
    .-= the wicked noodle´s last blog ..shrimp and feta rigatoni – the perfect recipe =-.

  5. This dessert is so creative and looks amazing!

  6. I just knew I would find something delectable if I dropped by. Your recipe is so inviting, Susan. And so well described. Perhaps, a non baker like me can even pull this off. Oh, how I would LOVE to try. Thank you so much for sharing…
    .-= Louise´s last blog ..Madame Schumann-Heink "Anybody Can Make Jell-O" =-.

  7. This is a great way to enjoy rhubarb!

  8. This looks fantastic. Such a great idea. My future sister-in-law is generously donating her time baking for a soup kitchen and must make a cake with rhubarb and mentioned making a rhubarb upside-down cake so I will be passing this recipe along to her. Thanks!

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