There’s one seasonal ingredient in the shops at the moment which puts a very jolly spin on February: forced rhubarb. I’ve been buying it at the market and the supermarket (for some reason, the market produce seems rather redder) to simmer with some sugar to go with yoghurt in the mornings, and with custard at suppertime. We also spooned it over pancakes on Shrove Tuesday – I’m sure I’ll be sick of it soon, but we’re not there yet, so I chucked some in a cake.
This recipe is based on one I found on Usenet in the mid-nineties. The original was very simple: a box of cake mix, a few handsful of rhubarb, some sugar, and some cream. This is my cake-mix-free version, which is just as quick to prepare. It’s lovely and moist, has a fantastic rhubarb and custard flavour, and disappears very quickly.
I don’t really understand why you’d spend the extra on a boxed mix, when it only takes a minute to measure out flour, butter, milk and sugar. This also gives your inner control-freak the ability to manage exactly what goes into your cake. A bit of googling revealed that the ingredients panel on a standard box of yellow cake mix reads:
Personally, I prefer an ingredients list that goes like this:
250g plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
125g softened butter
450g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-5 stalks rhubarb
1 pint double cream
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
Sieve the flour into a large bowl with the baking powder and salt. Give it plenty of height, to get as much air into the flour as possible.
In a separate large bowl, use an electric whisk to cream the butter and 225g of the sugar together until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, with the vanilla essence, at a high speed. Add the flour and milk a little at a time, beating as you go, until you have a velvety, light mixture.
Use a spatula to spread the cake mixture over the bottom of a metal baking tin – use a non-stick one, or line with greased parchment. Mine measured 30×35 cm; if yours is smaller, that’s fine, but be sure it has reasonably high sides and be aware that your cooking time may be a bit longer. Cut the rhubarb into small pieces and scatter it over the top of the mixture with the remaining sugar. Pour the cream over the whole arrangement and bake for 45 minutes.
Test with a skewer, which should come out nearly clean – if it’s still sticky or liquidy when you shake the tin, give the cake another ten minutes and test again. The top will be cracked and golden. This cake is good hot or cold.