I came back from Italy a few days ago to find an enormous bag of rhubarb in our kitchen. Enormous. There must be at least three kilos of the stuff in it. I will spare you my favourite spiel about how much I adore rhubarb and proceed to describe how I turned this back of green and pink stalks into one of the most delicious cakes in existence, with the help - naturally - of my beloved new KitchenAid stand mixer. Because this rhubarb is later in the season, it lacks the slender, elegant pinkness of its champagne cousin, and therefore isn't entirely suitable for a simple poaching or roasting treatment. This cake is a great and pleasantly rustic way to make the most of rhubarb that needs a little more doing to it than a simple scattering of sugar.
First, the cake batter. This is a simple mixture of brown sugar and butter, creamed together before adding yoghurt, eggs, ginger and self-raising flour. I was pretty generous with the ground ginger, because it goes so well with rhubarb and also with brown sugar. I've made this cake once before using sour cream instead of yoghurt, but I decided to try yoghurt because a) the sour cream I found in the fridge was interspersed with thick veins of furry blue mould and b) because yoghurt is a rather healthier substitute and I am still feeling vast after my trip to Italia.
The result is a rather thick batter that smells and tastes incredible. I think it's the tartness of the yoghurt that, coupled with the brown sugar and ginger, provides the most wonderful balance between sweet and sour. It goes into a tin, and then it's time for the rhubarb. Of course, making the batter requires no more effort than putting things into the bowl of the KitchenAid and switching it on. I'm still getting used to having my cakes mixed in a fashion that requires no hands-on effort from me.
Having been spoiled by early season rhubarb, hacking my way through these rather thicker and tougher stems was a novelty. I nibbled a bit of one out of interest, and it was rather like eating a lemon. I quite like the way this kind of rhubarb is green in some places and pink in others; it's an unusual colour contrast and for some reason reminds me of sticks of rock. Though I have never eaten or in fact closely observed a stick of rock. I sliced the rhubarb into short lengths, and arranged it on top of the cake batter.
In retrospect, I think it would be better to slice the rhubarb into longer lengths and arrange them horizontally rather than vertically with the cut sides facing upwards. I was in the mood for making patterns, though, so I arranged the pieces in concentric circles, having a sneaking suspicion that when I removed the cake from the oven they wouldn't look nearly so neat. I was correct. The ends had sort of frazzled in the heat and it looked a bit dry. Fortunately, the next step is designed to rectify any such issues in the most delicious way imaginable.
Ginger syrup. Water, sugar and ground ginger boiled until sticky and fragrant. The perfect partner to tart rhubarb, the syrup goes over the top of the cake once it has had a while to cool. I made some holes in the cake before I poured it over, in the style of a lemon drizzle cake. There was a lot of syrup left over, even though I completely drenched the cake in it. It soaks into all the cracks between the rhubarb and the batter, leaving a gorgeous glistening finish and a superbly moist cake. It also seeps into the pieces of rhubarb, softening and sweetening their astringency.
I love the look of this cake; it's very rustic, with its scattering of rhubarb sticking up at odd angles, but also intensely inviting because of the way the syrup shines wickedly over the surface, hinting at promises of sugary goodness to come. Cut into it, and you're rewarded with an incredibly moist crumb with a slight sourness that balances perfectly with the rhubarb and lashings of sugar. The ginger also marries perfectly, preventing over-sweetness. The best part is the top layer where the syrup has soaked down into the cake. Words cannot express just how satisfying and simply delicious this is. Add some vanilla ice cream, and you have dessert heaven. It's best eaten warm but keeps well for a few days too.
Sticky rhubarb and ginger cake (makes a 22cm cake):
75g butter, softened
250g brown sugar (light or dark - I used light)
300ml natural yoghurt
2 tsp ground ginger
300g self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin.
Cream the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer. Add the yoghurt, eggs and ginger, and mix well until combined. Fold in the flour - you should have a smooth but fairly stiff batter. Pour the batter into the cake tin.
Chop the rhubarb into short lengths and scatter over the top of the cake, as neatly or as messily as you like.
Place in the oven and bake for an hour and a half. If the top starts to brown too much, cover with foil. Remove and leave to cool.
Make the syrup by mixing the caster sugar and ginger with 100ml water. Bring to the boil and bubble until thickened and syrupy. Use a fork to poke some holes into the cake (try not to go all the way through to the bottom), then drizzle the syrup over.
Serve immediately with creme fraiche, yoghurt, or vanilla ice cream.