More Spring Baking: Rhubarb Polenta Cake

by moderndomestic on April 15, 2010

Rhubarb Cake 1

More food to feed my rhubarb obsession.

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 Cake 2


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.

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Rhubarb | ModernDomestic
April 7, 2012 at 9:11 pm

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Brooke April 15, 2010 at 11:41 am

This looks so beautiful!


Amelia of Gradually Greener April 16, 2010 at 9:11 am

Yum. I’m a huge rhubarb fan, but it’s hard to think of creative ways to use it besides cobblers, pies, and the occasional batch of rhubarb syrup. This looks fantastic – I can totally see the rhubarb flavor working really well with the sweet, mild polenta flavor. Years ago I made a cranberry upside down polenta cake (a Martha Stewart recipe I think), which is sort of the same concept: something sweet-tart paired with a spongey corn flour cake. Of course, rhubarb is superior to cranberries. So I gotta make this!!


mary April 16, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Gorgeous. I love rhubarb. Can’t wait to see it at the market.


JM of DCFoodLove April 17, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I’ve never baked with rhubarb before, I’m not crazy about tart desserts, but this sounds really interesting. I bet this would be good baked in a loaf pan and heated up later for breakfast!


Lauren May 3, 2010 at 10:42 am

My friend Portia and I made two of these this weekend. Sadly, we did not take pictures but they were gorgeous. Also, we discovered (by accident), that we like a higher egg:flour ratio for a moister cake. We will be reducing the all-purpose flour in this recipe by 1/4-1/2 c. in the future. We really liked making these in spring form pans instead of regular baking pans, but you should be aware that the caramelizely goodness will run out the bottom if you pinch your parchment paper, rather than fit it, like we did. Also, we took the reserved juices from the rhubarb and some macerated strawberries, reduced them into a thin syrup, which we then poured over the drier of the two cakes when we served it. It reminded us of the better parts of old-fashioned strawberry shortcake. Good find!


Gloria Bonde May 5, 2010 at 7:47 am

I think this recipe sounds like it would freeze well. I have lots, and lots of rhubarb growing in my garden. My garden is so planted that I planted the rhubarb as ground cover in my alley….I give alot away and it gets a little “wet” if you freeze it in an unbaked pie. (My favorite way to store apple pie is frozen, then bakle) – PS since you seem to enjoy unique baking, in my blog I put a recipe for my Grape Pie that I make every year. Yum! It’s one of my earlier post when I started my blog last summer. Best wishes in your baking! Thanks for the recipe.


Silvi Mariuzzo June 8, 2010 at 9:24 am

My husband is Italian and according to him this is the perfect breakfast cake. I have made it three times now with the abundant rhubarb here in Ireland. This last time – I did not have quite enough rhubarb so I also added a frozen mixture of black currants, red currants and red raspberries. I mixed the frozen berries with sugar and corn starch and then added them after the rhubarb step, to the cake pan (prior to laying down the batter) – gorgeous warm, with whipped double cream!


moderndomestic June 8, 2010 at 11:07 pm

Oh I’m so glad it came out well for you! The currant/raspberry/rhubarb mixture sounds lovely – I’d like to try that myself.


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