Every spring, when the lilacs start to bloom, there are three things that I just HAVE to do:
- Pick a lilac bouquet
- Find rhubarb
- Make a rhubarb cake
So, last week when every room of my yoga studio was filled with the sweet scent of lilacs from the bouquets adorning the window sill, something internally demanded that I complete those three things, as soon as possible.
Growing up on a farm outside of a small farming community, I would pick the lilac blooms from my mom’s beloved bushes in our own yard and my sister and I would drive over to our family friends’ house and cut our share of rhubarb from their plentiful patch. We would make two cakes at once, since the first one was sure to be gone by dinner and we would eat the second one for breakfast the next day. This was one of my grandpa’s favorite treats (and boy, did he love his treats), so, just as lilacs always remind me of my creative mom, this rhubarb cake always reminds me of my ornery grandpa.
I woke up early on Saturday morning to be able to walk to the farmer’s market to collect my rhubarb and return before we planned to leave for the boyfriend’s trail race in a nearby town. Though at first I cursed the 6:00 am alarm, the walk towards the river in the early morning sun through the calm city streets was peaceful and lovely. So, when I arrived to the market location to find the vendors just beginning to unload their trucks, I couldn’t help but laugh that I hadn’t even checked what time the market officially opened. After a quick Google consultation on my phone, I confirmed that I arrived a casual 1.5 hours before the market opens, but that I would have time to swing by after the race, instead. As luck would have it, the route for my empty-handed walk home brought me by a lovely lilac bush and I happily relieved it of a few weighty blooms. The morning was not a loss after all! I got the bouquet I needed, and the early morning walk was good for my soul.
Upon returning to the farmer’s market after the trail race, I was finally able to bring home a bundle of lovely rhubarb (and was greeted by an apartment smelling of lilacs).
The rest of the ingredients are standard baking ingredients and can probably be sourced form your pantry. Growing up, if we didn’t have any buttermilk on hand, we successfully used a few substitutes. You can add tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk and letting it sit for 10 minutes or a dried buttermilk powder.
The batter is a fairly thick consistency, but looks lovely with chunks of vibrantly colored chopped rhubarb folded in. Another recipe modification (if I remember to do it) is to add a bit of cinnamon to the batter. I’ve never measured it, but I’d say I sprinkle in about a teaspoon.
One of the best parts of this cake is the cinnamon sugar topping. Sprinkle it over the top of the batter before baking. I prefer double the amount of cinnamon sugar topping in the recipe. Of course, sugar should be consumed in moderation. But I only make this once a year as a special treat. This cake is moist to begin with, but if you serve it a day after baking, it is even more moist and the topping kind of melts into the cake and makes it even more delicious. Use your own judgement to make the best decision for your diet and the diet of those to whom you are serving the cake.
Once it has baked, the topping will have formed a bit of a crust on top, or, if you’re doubling your topping like me, there will probably still be cinnamon sugar sitting on top of the crust, until the moist cake absorbs it.
Leave the cake sitting out, uncovered, for a few hours as it cools. I store it covered at room temperature until it is gone. Since it is always gone within 2 days, I’m not even sure how long it lasts. At home, I cut the 9 x 13 pan into 12 servings, but when I bring it into work, I cut it into 24 servings in a feeble attempt to make it last longer.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this recipe! It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it has brought my family so much joy throughout the generations. Let me know how yours turned out in the comments!
And be sure to follow this blog so you won’t miss my next Culinary Crusade!
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups chopped rhubarb
- Topping: 1/2 cup sugar mixed with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- Preheat over to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 pan.
- Mix flour and baking soda. Set aside.
- Cream together butter and sugar.
- Mix in egg, vanilla, and buttermilk to butter and sugar mixture.
- Gradually stir in the flour mixture.
- Fold in chopped rhubarb.
- Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan.
- Sprinkle the topping mixture on top.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.