Before Paul was born, MVH and I were going out to dinner a lot. We hit many of Milwaukee’s fish fry hot spots during Lent. (In our book, St. Martins Inn in Franklin was the best, but the wait was almost two hours.) We figured that after our little stranger arrived, trips out to eat would drop off precipitously (and so far they have).
We’ve been trying to make easy, healthy meals instead of relying on easy, junky carryout (as much as I love easy, junky carryout). But, I must confess, to make eating at home all the time seem a little fancier, we’ve been making dessert regularly.
This rhubarb cornmeal cake returned to our table after a year or two absence. We received a ton of rhubarb from a neighbor a few summers ago, and this dessert appeared a few times, to our delight. MVH requested its resurrection, and I obliged in a giant day of cooking — the cake, plus a double batch of mac-n-cheese. (Cooking ahead is doing your future self a good solid, especially when your future self has a baby to care for. Wait — present self also has a baby to care for. Hrm.)
In my book, rhubarb is the most summery of fruitish produce. Think about it: you can get strawberries and most stone fruit all year (not that you’d want to eat them year round), but the window for rhubarb is pretty narrow. And then it’s closed.
The flavor is tart, but when I close my eyes, I think, “This must be what flowers taste like.” Do you notice that floral thing in rhubarb, too? Or is it only me? Whatever it is, it’s delicious and summery and hot pink. Maybe rhubarb is how hot pink tastes. That must be it.
Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake
Adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
1 pound, 2 ounces rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornmeal (Nigella says polenta, but I use regular cornmeal without ill effects (then again, maybe fine cornmeal would blow my mind))
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
9-inch springform pan, greased and lined with parchment paper (I used a 9 1/2-inch pan)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Wash and dry rhubarb, and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces. Cover the chopped rhubarb with 1/3 cup sugar while you work on the rest of the cake. Nigella suggests not leaving the fruit for more than 30 minutes lest it becomes too soggy.
Mix together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cornmeal. Beat together eggs and vanilla in a separate small bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter with remaining 2/3 cup sugar. To butter and sugar, gradually beat in egg-and-vanilla mixture. Then alternate adding flour-cornmeal mixture with yogurt. Don’t overmix.
Finally, fold in rhubarb and its released juices. Pour batter into prepared pan. I baked the cake for 40 minutes, checked it, covered it with foil to keep the top from burning, and baked for another 17 minutes. (Total baking time is about an hour, but each oven is different; test doneness with a toothpick.) Let cool in pan on a wire rack before unmolding.
Serve this cake with ice cream or whipped cream to eight to 10 friends.