Monday, June 13, 2011

to win hearts.

In an effort to win the hearts of members of my sweetheart's extended family this weekend, I baked a cake for their picnic reunion. I still tried to be charming while with them, of course, but it was nice, people, to have a beautiful and delicious cake as backup.

I was taking a few chances, true, with my choice of baked good. Among them: what if I couldn't find sufficient rhubarb at the market on Saturday morning? what if the cake didn't cooperate when flipped? what if I dropped it in the grass as we walked to the picnic location? what if it turned out to be not as interesting a creation as I had anticipated? what if it was not, in fact, delicious?

But, dear readers, I had nothing to fear. And as my heart-winning endeavor seemed rather effective, or at least not ineffective, I thought I ought to share it with you, just in case someone out there needs to win over a heart or two.

And furthermore, after all of that gushing about rhubarb, I felt obliged to offer at least one recipe based on this market treasure before its season slips away--because it is, most unfortunately, slipping. The days of the farmers market, while entirely glorious, also provoke fear that I will miss some wonder of a fruit or vegetable in the prime of its season, or that I will fail to enjoy said wonder sufficiently, or that I will suffer the fate of discovering the perfect recipe for strawberries or fava beans or sorrel--or rhubarb!--just after that ingredient has vanished from the market.

It has been known to happen.

But! I had been doing very well this year in preventing such unthinkable tragedies, having pounced upon the rhubarb immediately upon its arrival to the market and then regularly buying more than I could easily/sanely work through in a week. And yet I almost missed my opportunity to bake this cake, and that, of course, would have elicited no affections from anyone.

Thankfully, at one farmer's stall, when I had nearly given up hope, a few lingering red stalks hiding alongside a pile of asparagus caught my eye--enough for this cake, plus a small stash for the freezer. A narrow escape!

And why, you may ask, does this cake deserve the label of heart-winning? It looks like a fruitcake, I hear you whisper apprehensively.

Well. Perhaps it's the warm sugar pocketed between sweet slices of rhubarb and bright threads of ginger, or the way the sugar caramelizes to the deepest brown hue and crisps perfectly along the edges. Or perhaps it's the moist cake hiding below that lovely layer of fruit, dense with oats and more brown sugar. Possibly the compelling power rests in the delight inspired by a flipped-up cake, or in knowledge of the avoided-danger such flipping requires.

Or maybe it's the desire to win those hearts in the first place, and not so much the cake itself, that wields magic. Perhaps--just perhaps--the cake has nothing to do with it.

Whatever the case may be, I urge you to make this cake. It will give you confidence, and at the end of the day, that's probably the point.

So go on now--win some hearts.

Note: If rhubarb has left your local market and you have none lingering in your freezer, I imagine you could swap in another fruit; just be sure to dial down the sugar a bit, as rhubarb is quite tart.
Rhubarb Ginger Downside-Up/Upside-Down Cake
Adapted (hardly) from Tim Hirschfeld's recipe, found both at food52 and on his blog, Bona Fide Farm Food

For the rhubarb layer:
2 1/4 cups rhubarb, 1/2 inch slices
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter

For the oatmeal cake:
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup flour (I used half white whole wheat + half all-purpose)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine the oats, boiling water and first 1/4 cup of butter in a mixing bowl, or in the pan in which you heated the water on the stovetop if you chose that method. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the over to 350 F. Place the rest of the butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, and set the skillet in the oven to melt the butter. Remove the pan when the butter is just melted, and spread the brown sugar on top. In a separate bowl, combine the rhubarb and ginger. Spread this mixture evenly over the butter and brown sugar. Set aside.

In the empty rhubarb bowl, combine the flour(s), baking powder, baking soda and salt.

To the cooled oatmeal mixture, add the egg, both sugars and the vanilla. Stir to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet; mix until combined.

Spread the cake batter uniformly over the rhubarb. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (relatively so--recall that gooey, caramelized layer nestled below!).

Let the cake cool in the skillet for at least five minutes. Run a knife around its edges, and gently invert it onto a cake plate or a sheet pan.

Allow the cake to cool for at least twenty minutes before slicing and enjoying thoroughly--at home, on a picnic or wherever you might be. Hearts will be won.

Yield: 8-10 slices