There are over 10 festivals held to celebrate rhubarb each year in the United States alone. I had no idea that the crisp, sour stalk has such a large fan base. My experience with rhubarb doesn’t go very far back, as I think that I had my first taste of strawberry-rhubarb pie only a few years ago. I think that many people, especially those living outside the prime rhubarb regions of the Northern U.S. and Canada, are unfamiliar with what rhubarb tastes like, what it looks like, and what the heck to do with it.
Most people, if asked, would likely say that rhubarb is a fruit, but it really is a vegetable. Originally cultivated in Asia over 2,000 years ago for medicinal purposes, it didn’t make its way over to America and into people’s recipes until the early 1800s. The leaves of the rhubarb plant are actually poisonous, which is why you will only find the stalks in your grocery store produce section. The raw vegetables are extremely tart, so they are cooked and sweetened for recipes. It is rich in vitamin C, calcium, and fiber, so don’t feel so guilty about eating it in a huge piece of pie with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top!
The word rhubarb means "pie plant", and it is traditionally used in pies, tarts, and sweet sauces. This recipe incorporates rhubarb a little differently, as part of a buttery lemon scented pound cake and the syrup that is drizzled on top. I really enjoyed making this as it is such a "spring-y" recipe, with the fresh flavors and pretty bright colors. All it needs is a dollop of sweetened whipped cream for a beautiful presentation. Here are my tips for these petite pound cakes:
- If you don’t have parchment paper, then be sure to butter and flour the pans very well. These cakes are moist due to the addition of the fruit, so they have a tendency to stick.
- Vanilla beans can be expensive, so if you don’t have any or don’t want to buy one, just use 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste (available at Trader Joe’s in the spice section).
- You can also use the batter to make 1 large pound cake or many individual tea cakes, by dividing the batter among muffin tins. This would be a great idea for a dessert during a shower or brunch.
- The cakes can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored, tightly wrapped, at room temperature.
- The rhubarb can be refrigerated in syrup for up to one week; bring to room temperature and gently reheat prior to serving.
Makes 4 small pound cakes
For the cakes:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups 1/4-inch diced rhubarb
For the rhubarb syrup:
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup 1/4-inch diced rhubarb
Whipped cream, for serving
Prepare the cakes: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Butter 4 mini loaf pans and then line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment.
Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the lemon zest and then the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and then add the flour in two additions, alternating with the sour cream. Stir in the rhubarb.
Prepare the rhubarb syrup: Scrape the vanilla seeds into a saucepan with the tip of a sharp knife. Reserve the pod for another use. Add the water, lemon juice, and sugar and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and stir in the rhubarb. Let cool and then remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon and reserve. Return the liquid to a simmer and cook until the mixture has reduced by half, 6-8 minutes. Let cool slightly and then return the rhubarb to the syrup.
To serve, spoon a generous amount of whipped cream over each cake and then top with the rhubarb syrup.