What cake do you bake when tucked away in the mid-western countryside, and you discover that your ol’ friend Billy - whom your family has basically taken up as part of the extended family, but you haven’t seen in five years - is celebrating his 49th birthday? A rhubarb pistachio spelt cake, of course. Especially since you’ve had a rhubarb recipe from Call Me Cupcake bookmarked on your phone for well over a year.
As I was stalking up on groceries like a culinary hoarder for my week-long solo-time retreat from all things social, I saw a basket full of beautiful ruby-red rhubarb. God it’s pretty. Luminescent! It’s such an easy recipe, that I basically had everything at home other than the rhubarb.
I adapted this recipe a lot! Originally it called for All Purpose Flour, a higher amount of regular sugar, regular milk, vanilla sugar, and no pistachios. First, I wanted to make it healthier, and secondly… to hell with pastry being a precise science that you have to follow strictly, or it will completely fail and burn your house down by not measuring each grain of sugar by hand, with a loupe. False. Technical pastry classics aside - I feel there’s room for playing around in the kitchen, in savory AND sweet! A little less of this, a little swap of that… It should be fun! Yes, you may at times become a wee bit too spirited and think yourself the next Rose Levy Beranbaum, and get carried away with too much improvisation… but the kitchen will no doubt set you straight then with an ugly-ass cake, or whatever it was meant to be. If you’re anything like me, after a brief spell of fuming, you’ll be back at it again, wiser, and more determined. Breathe easy here, this recipe is quite forgiving!
SELECTING RHUBARB: Not all varieties of Rhubarb are Red, so color is not the best indicator of “good “ or ripe rhubarb. The best bet is to rely on the size of the stalks. Typically, they should be between7 to 15 inches (20-40 cm) long.
Heat oven to 350°F (175°C), and Grease a 10” pie pan.
In a medium Bow, sift dry ingredients and mix well.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on medium-high until light and creamy, about 6 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on medium speed until velvety.
Fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the kefir (or milk) at a time – gently stirring with a spatula until just barely combined with each addition. Repeat with until all flour and milk is incorporated, without overworking the batter / streaks are fine at this stage.
Fold in the pistachios, this time making sure there are no streaks of dry flour remaining. Batter should look smooth at this point.
Pour the batter in the greased pan.
Arrange rhubarb stalks in a circular pattern atop the batter. This is where you may want to throw your hands up and say "I thought this cake was supposed to be easy". Alternate between the longer and shorter pieces, to be able to cover the whole cake in an even circular pattern. Or to hell with it and do whatever pattern you like! Keep in mind smaller rhubarb pieces will bake more quickly, and may become too tender.
Sprinkle granulated sugar on top.
Bake the first 10 minutes at 350°, then lower heat to 300°F (150°C) and bake for an additional 35 minutes, or until cake is golden brown, rhubarb is tender, and a cake tester comes out clean!
Let cake cool slightly in pan/mold for 10 minutes or so to set and hold shape when slicing… Do serve slightly warm if possible!
Approx 8 servings
IN A MEDIUM BOWL
1 cup Spelt Flour (144g)
1/4 cup Almond Flour (36g)
1.5 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Cardamom Seeds, freshly ground
pinch of Salt
IN A LARGE BOWL
100 g Butter, room temp (don't skimp on butter, if possible!)
3/4 cup (200g) Coconut Sugar*
1 large Egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup kefir, at room temperature**
1/4 cup raw Pistachios (optional)
200g Rhubarb, cut into approx 3” and 4” pieces
Turbinado Sugar, or other granulated sugar
1/2 cup kefir, at room temperature**
Pistachio Ice Cream
*Regular or brown sugar is ok. I prefer less refined sugars, for taste and health: coconut sugar retains quite a bit of the nutrients found in the coconut palm, including Iron, Zinc, Calcium and Potassium, along with some short chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants that may also provide some health benefits. It also contains a fiber called inulin, which may slow glucose absorption and explain why coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than regular table sugar. That said, sugar is sugar, it's not like eating spoonfuls of coconut sugar is a healthy thing.
**For this recipe, Kefir should be lightly fermented until slightly tart, but still liquid. Any nut or dairy milk will do just as well. Again, play with what you got!
SERVING SUGGESTIONS //
GOAT MILK KEFIR CREAM - In this case, I wanted something fresh and tart, to balance the sweetness of the cake itself, while staying on theme with the tartness of the rhubarb. I had some Goat's Milk Kefir Cream on hand, cause I'm a nerd. Crême Fraîche, or whipped heavy cream will also do.
PISTACHIO ICE CREAM - Although this cake doesn’t NEED ice cream… who can resist pairing warm cake with ice cream, on a bright and warm early summer day?
Since I'd left my ice cream machine at home, Billy voluntarily dashed off to the nearby local ice cream shop, Aglamesis. It’s been around for ages in Cincinnati, and although less well known than the famed Graeter’s, I prefer it. If not for what I feel are better ingredients, for the fact that it remains small and quaint, and the space is like an old, charming ice cream parlor. White, pink, and black.
CONTRASTS // In all cooking, there are a few basic contrasts that I love and aim for in the realms of texture, flavor, temperature. Here, the sugars in the recipe help caramelize the border of the cake to a nice crisp, balanced with a tender cake crumb underneath. The sweetness of the cake is countered by the tartness of the rhubarb. The pistachios add a soft bite with their nutty texture, as well as a subtle pistachio flavor, which in this case is kept in check by the brightness of the ground cardamom - which gives the cake such a lovely floral note. Lastly, the goat’s kefir cream adds a note of freshness, slight tang... more unique than regular whipped cream any day. PLUS, I can always justify eating carbs & sugar more easily when throwing in some cultured food. I like to tell myself that the beneficial bacteria help digest anything better! ;)
SPELT. An Ancient Grain
SPELT LOVE: Spelt has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. I typically use whole grain sprouted spelt flour, and it is actually not as expensive as other “trendy” flours that are making a comeback in the health world. For the most part, it’s a pretty equal substitute in recipes calling for wheat or all purpose flour, and in comparison to traditional wheat flour, spelt flour is actually richer in many nutrients.
BENEFITS: Spelt is a species of wheat cultivated since approximately 5000 BC, so, it does contain gluten! Strict gluten free-ers, it’s a no go, sorry! (I will have to write a separate post in defense of gluten as a whole. As with many food fads throughout history, much of what made an ingredient “the root of all evil”, gluten being the latest one, was less about the food/ingredient itself, and much more about its refinement and deterioration in mass production for the sake of efficiency and profit - stripping a food that is created by nature to deliver nutrients in a synergistic way when eaten whole, who’s benefits can even be increased if prepared with care and respect (insert rant about sourdough and naturally leavened breads here… another post for the future!). BOOK RECOMMENDATION: I’d strongly recommend starting with this quick read: Grain of Truth - the author is a journalist, who takes an unbiased approach at dismantling the gluten-free argument from both sides of the spectrum. Fascinating read, and for me, life changing, too.
For those who only partially avoid gluten due to minor gluten sensitivities, spelt’s higher water solubility may make it easier to digest. It is an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and numerous dietary minerals. Its richest nutrient contents include manganese, phosphorus and niacin.
RHUBARB. Beautiful inside & out
Aside from being pretty, or in some cases BECAUSE* of it, Rhubarb is an unexpected nutritional powerhouse. As with many things, it is touted as being wonderful for weight-loss, digestion, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, alzheimer’s, younger looking skin…and more! My thoughts: few things in life are so miraculous on their own! Health and healing is more complex than one super-food or single ingredient. That said, it is in high dietary fiber, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Some of the compounds that give it such a vibrant red color in some cases, are what make it a rich source of polyphenolic flavonoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Eating a varied and balanced diet, can help our overall health - and with that said, I think Rhubarb is a great addition to your kitchen. Although it’s commonly used in baking, it can be eaten raw as well. Hmmm, why haven’t I seen raw rhubarb in salads, though? Idea! The raw flavor, is quite, strong though… so I do feel like baking with it makes it more palatable.