When my parents first bought the land that is now Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Fall Festival, a pick-your-own pumpkin farm, they planned to sell strawberries. They planted acres and acres of the finicky sweet berries, placed ads in the local newspaper and sold them to whoever showed up. As an extra revenue booster, Grandpa Ernie planted rhubarb behind an old farm shed. Ironically, the hearty perennial outlasted the strawberry business, coming back year after year. Grandma Lois and I used it to pluck it out of the ground and make the most heavenly rhubarb desserts. It’s hands down my favorite type of pie, and one of my favorite summer flavors, along with sweet corn and tomatoes.
Rhubarb season has finally come to New York. I’ve been waiting since early May, checking the Union Square Greenmarket whenever possible, anticipating the weekends spent making rhubarb jam and pies and cakes. When I saw the pink-speckled stalks in a vendor’s stall Saturday, my mind whirled and I hardly even knew where to begin. Since I didn’t have time for jam and I knew Geoff and I wouldn’t be able to eat a pie by ourselves, I decided to start small with a cake.
I’ve wanted to make this Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake since seeing it in the April issue of Gourmet last year, and it didn’t disappoint. I’m philosophically against mixing strawberries with rhubarb, but I made an exception for the wonderful berries I found at the market.
I like this recipe because it’s a good starting point for a solid basic fruit dessert that I can keep tweaking and changing. This time, I added just a tad more rhubarb and less strawberries than the recipe calls for, and I should have added a bit more sugar to even it out. Luckily, I like it super tart. I’m going to add even more fruit next time, and maybe even try it with peaches. The pudding cake came out soft, moist and airy, exactly how I imagined it would. I was amazed how quickly this dessert came together, it tasted great and now I can say my summer has officially begun. Yumm!!
Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake
Adapted from Gourmet
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks (give or take, just remember to adjust the sugar accordingly)
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries (if you find good berries and you can’t resist adding them)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch square glass baking dish (I used a round pie plate).
Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.
Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined.
Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes before serving.