Wednesday May 15, 2013 | 05:45 AM

Rhubarb is commonly mistaken as a fruit when it’s actually an herbaceous plant that is customarily used in fruit-based preparations like rhubarb-strawberry pie, crisps and compotes.

It’s just now appearing in farmers’ markets, and their arrival along with fiddleheads, asparagus, ramps and green garlic are sure signs of spring. 

Rhubarb likes rich soil and sun to partial shade to grow well

When I bought some last week I prepared a rhubarb crisp, a dessert that’s certainly pleasant enough, though less so than the more complex pies with all kinds of berries and fruits mixed in. 

Fresh picked ripe rhubarb is  bright red or has touches of green; it's ready to go into all kinds of desserts

For the bunch that I bought this week, I thought I’d try something different and came up with this old-fashioned recipe for rhubarb cake.  It’s very simple to prepare and if you need a really large dessert you can easily double the recipe and bake it in a 9 by 13-inch pan instead of the 8-inch vessel. 


To prepare it for the cake, cut the stalks down the middle lengthwise and then into 1/2-inch pieces

Rhubarb cake with sugar-nut topping
Servings 6 to 8

¾ cup light-brown sugar, packed
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
¾ cup rhubarb, cut in half lengthwise and cut into ½ inch lengths

1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground cardamom

1/4 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8-inch square baking dish. 

Cream the sugar and butter together using the whisk attachment until flakey and well mixed.  Add the egg and continue to beat until well incorporated.  By  the 1/2 cup, add the flour (and baking soda all at once), stirring or mixing gently until well combine.  Add 1/3 of the buttermilk and stir to combine.  Continue to add the flour and buttermilk, ending with flour.  Stir in the vanilla and rhubarb until well combined.  Pour the mixture into the dish. 

Prepare the topping by mixing all the ingredients together and sprinkle over the cake batter.  Put in the oven and bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.  Accompany with vanilla ice cream, pastry cream, whipped cream or serve it unadorned.

Fresh out of the oven, the cake should rest for about 20 minutes before slicing; the texture is incredibly fluffy and moist 

Served plain, it's a delicious breakfast cake, too


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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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