So, like, first of all: thanks. Thanks for all the kudos, congratulations, tips, and stories that you shared upon my news that I quit my day job to pursue baking. I’m really touched. Like, really, really touched. I could go on, but then this would become a really sappy post, and it wouldn’t be about what it’s supposed to be about. Which is rhubarb.
I’m a little obsessed with rhubarb. Can you tell? I think it’s because it’s such an odd vegetable – its tart, astringent, herbal flavor takes on such a different quality when sweetened with sugar. It’s such an interesting, almost odd marriage of flavors that I can’t help but obsess over it.
I’ve also been a little obsessed with the idea of polenta cake. I love baked goods that use cornmeal, and lately I’ve been dreaming of making a rustic, sweet, buttery cake with a deep corn flavor. Since I had some rhubarb left over from my sherbet, I decided to combine these two obsessions, and make a rhubarb polenta cake.
This is the kind of dessert that I love to bake – it comes together in about twenty minutes, it’s full of flavor, but it’s not overly complicated. And it’s very pretty – the little pieces of rhubarb that line the bottom of the cake pan make a lovely pattern on the top of the cake. The cake itself is lovely – it’s sweet without being overpowering, deeply buttery, and has a coarser, heartier texture than cakes made with all purpose flour. What I loved the most about it is that the flavor of the corn really shines through the cake. The rhubarb provides a bright contrast to the buttery, salty sweet cake. It’s another lovely way to celebrate the return of spring produce.
I can’t wait until strawberries come into season and I can make a strawberry rhubarb polenta cake.
Rhubarb Polenta Cake
Adapted from The New York Times
2 stalks rhubarb, washed and trimmed
3 tbs + 3/4 cups sugar (plus a little more for sprinkling)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup medium to fine grind polenta
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
4 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 lime
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
Finely slice the rhubarb. In a small bowl, combine rhubarb slices with 3 tbs of sugar. Let macerate 1/2 hour.
Preheat your oven to 360 degrees.
Butter a 9 inch by 2 inch cake pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Sprinkle the bottom of the cake pan with sugar. Lay the slices of rhubarb over the bottom of the cake pan in a decorative pattern and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs, the remaining 3/4 cups sugar, and vanilla until light, foamy, and doubled in size. Add the lemon and lime zest and mix a couple seconds more, until evenly distributed. Add half the flour mixture, then half the butter, and mix until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture and butter.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan – use a spatula to evenly spread it around the pan. Rap the pan on the counter a couple times to dislodge any air bubbles. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on top and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out smooth. Invert onto a rack to cool, slightly. Serve warm, with plenty of vanilla ice cream.