Last month I had dinner with friends at Heirloom Café in San Francisco. It was a dream dinner: good friends, good wine, and delicious food. We shared bites of everything, marveling more and more with each bite. My meal started with a fava bean salad that tasted green in the best possible way, continued with gnocchi that were so fluffy I took each bite in delicious disbelief, and concluded with a rhubarb upside down cake that left me wanting to guard my plate from my friends’ forks.
The miniature cake was made with such care that I was certain each piece of identically sized rhubarb had been placed with tweezers to achieve beautifully concentric pink circles. I came home determined to recreate the cake. Fava beans are best ordered in a restaurant where someone else has to shell and blanch and peel them, and the gnocchi I felt sure were technically beyond me. The cake though, I thought I could translate from mini round of restaurant dessert perfection to a home baked cake to share over tea.
Turns out this cake is good with tea, and also good with ice cream, whipped cream, hot from the oven, cold from the fridge and by the tiny wedge you can’t help but cut every time you walk past it.
Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
for the rhubarb topping:
- 3 cups rhubarb, sliced in 1/4” pieces (3-5 stalks depending on size)
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- juice from half a lemon
- pinch of salt
for the vanilla cake:
- 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- Over medium high heat, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add the sliced rhubarb to the melted butter and cook for 2 minutes.
- Stir in the sugar and cook the rhubarb and sugar mixture until the sugar dissolves into a liquid syrup. Stir in the vanilla, lemon juice and salt and cook for an additional five minutes.
- Remove a 1/4 cup of just the rhubarb sugar liquid and set aside.
- Pour the remaining syrup and rhubarb mixture into a buttered round 9” cake pan and spread the rhubarb mixture so it covers the entire bottom of the pan. Place the pan in the fridge while you mix up the cake.
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.
- In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is a smooth pale yellow.
- Add the egg to the mixture while mixing. When it is fully incorporated, add the egg yolk while mixing. When the yolk is fully incorporated, add the vanilla extract.
- Mix half the flour mixture into the butter and sugar. When the flour is fully mixed in, add the buttermilk, and then the other half of the flour mixture. Beat until smooth. The batter will be thick.
- . Remove the pan with the rhubarb mixture from the fridge. Using a spatula, carefully distribute the cake batter throughout the pan. (Don’t just pour it into the center of the pan and try to spread it out because the rhubarb mixture will be displaced and your cake will be patchy when you turn it over) Instead carefully distribute the batter throughout the pan, and use a spatula to spread the batter evenly.
- Bake the cake at 375 for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
- Once the cake is done, immediately put a plate on top of the pan and flip the cake over. Pour the 1/4 cup reserved rhubarb syrup over the top of the cake.
- Serve warm or cold with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.