Rhubarb is one of those seasonal gems like asparagus that disappear from the shops just as rapidly as they appear. One moment, you can grab a large bundle for pittance in the supermarkets, and then it’s like gold dust; hiding in gardens across the country and you have to beg, borrow or steal to get a stick. Living up in the midst of the central belt of Scotland, I am sadly out of reach of the deliciously pink forced variety from the Rhubarb Triangle down south (yes, it is a thing) that appears far earlier in the year. However, that doesn’t mean to say the regular crop is less exciting with its more rapid tinges of green rippled through the rose coloured stalks.
Regularly grown rhubarb can stand up heartily alongside a decent dose of sugar, without losing the tart taste of the fruit that can be lost with the forced version. Crumbles and cocktails are wonderful with a dash of stewed rhubarb, but cakes need a little more inspiration. True, you can turn this fruit into a wonderful cake filling for a Victoria Sponge, but running through the actual cake, or rather, on the bottom, is a fantastic alternative.
There is something altogether retro about upside down cakes, but I think this one is rather more elegant than canned pineapple rings with glace cherry centres. Rhubarb is macerated with sugar, and lined up regimentally in the bottom of a cake tin, then topped with a delicious orange scented sponge mix. Baked and then upturned onto a serving board, it is the height of upside-down cake sophistication. Add a scoop of ice cream and perhaps a gin and tonic, and it’s a jubilee cake that celebrates the best of British without resorting to bunting, red white and blue themes or flag interpretations with sliced fruit. This is baking without cliché and it’s all the better for it. So raise a toast to those hardy sticks of rhubarb, before they disappear for another year.
You Will Need
For the Topping
140g rhubarb, cut into strips
1 and a ½ tablespoons of caster sugar
For the Sponge
100g caster sugar
100g softened butter (Stork is fine)
1 orange, zested
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
100g self raising flour
Extra caster sugar and butter to coat the cake tin
Preheat the oven to 180oc/160oc fan/Gas Mark 4. Place the sliced rhubarb in a bowl and sprinkle over the caster sugar. Toss to coat each piece and leave to macerate. Grease a sandwich tin with a little butter, then sprinkle over caster sugar and shake round the tin to coat. Set aside.
Cream the butter and sugar together with a hand mixer for about 3-4 minutes until creamy. Whisk in the eggs until smooth. Don’t worry if the mixture splits at this point, it will come together with the flour. Mix in the orange zest and vanilla paste, then fold in the flour.
In the bottom of the sandwich tin, arrange the rhubarb strips in a circular shape and drizzle over the sugar syrup that will have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl. Spoon over the cake mix and smooth with the back of a spoon. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Place the tin on a wire rack and leave to cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a plate or a wooden board. Cut into wedges and serve with ice cream.