Saturday, September 11, 2010

Franco-phenomenal Coffee Cake

You've gotta hand it to the farming communities. You know, it's tricky enough trying to deal with your own glut of produce in the middle of summer when you just have a home garden to tend - can you imagine what it must be like for a family with acres of the fertile stuff? I often wonder what it must feel like to suddenly be overburdened with what I like to term "placeholder produce" - the fruits and veggies that are never the "big sellers" in the marketplace, that you really only ever see squirreled away in the corners of the farmers' markets and roadside stalls. Things like the humble garden radish, or the occasional bunch of dandelion greens. One of the veggies that's particularly prominent mid-spring, right next to the baskets of strawberries, is of course the robust, tart rhubarb.

It's not that rhubarb is a gross plant. On the contrary, rhubarb is a delicious blend of contrasting textures and flavours... a crisp crunch and fresh, clean taste wake up the tongue on the first bite, while the toothsome, slightly stringy chew and bitter, sweet and tart flavours rush right in for a follow up. It's the strength of those flavours that make rhubarb an ingredient with a firm place in either the "love it" or "hate it" component of the human psyche. Generally, rhubarb is just too acidic, too tannic and too "rhubarby" to do anything but bathe it in a gooey sugar-berry mixture and encase it in pastry. Now don't get me wrong - I'm as big a fan of those pies as the next person, but I knew there had to be something, anything, that was both all about the plant and delicious at the same time.

Enter the church cookbook my mom has, written by a French-Canadian congregation in the St. Lawrence valley. That area is known for it's arable land and delicious produce, so it's no surprise that almost everything in the book features something from their backyards! One of my mom's personal favourites - potage parmentier - is in there, as are recipes for apples, grapes, and all kinds of veggies. Including rhubarb!

I skipped over the jam, pie filling and compote recipes (although they did have a rather interesting "Îles Flottantes" one) and landed on one for cake. Mmm, cake. Rhubarb cake. Even better, rhubarb crumb cake. With whole wheat, even! Perfect. I had my starting point.

In all honesty, I changed very little in the cake recipe, except to use spelt flour instead of the whole wheat and a banana in place of the egg. I left the butter, the sugar, and the buttermilk just as they were though - it's crumb cake after all, and since rhubarb is not exactly the sweetest thing on the planet I didn't want to turn people off! Having made it though, I think I would reduce the amount of sugar in the cake itself (probably by half) - the crumb topping is more than enough to stand up to the tart chunks of rhubarb and tangy buttermilk. I left the original poportions here, so let me know if you play around and it works well!

French Canadian Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Serves 12
1/4 cup sugar
12 oz (about 2 1/2 cups) rhubarb, diced
1/2 cup softened, salted butter (cultured if possible)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 small banana, mashed
1 tbsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk

Topping
2 tbsp softened, salted butter (cultured if possible)
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp spelt flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease and flour a 10" springform pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, toss together sugar and rhubarb. Allow to stand for 15 minutes, then drain liquid and set rhubarb aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, cream 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar until fluffy.
  5. Add banana and vanilla, beating well.
  6. Beat in alternating additions of the dry ingredients with the buttermilk, blending well, then fold in the rhubarb.
  7. Scrape into the pan and set aside while preparing topping.
  8. With a fork or your fingers, work the butter into the cinnamon, spelt flour and brown sugar until crumbly.
  9. Scatter over the top of the cake batter and lightly press on.
  10. Bake 30 minutes on the middle rack of the oven, then cover with a piece of aluminum foil, move to the bottom rack and bake another 30 minutes.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 279.8
Total Fat: 10.3 g
Cholesterol: 26.4 mg
Sodium: 100.6 mg
Total Carbs: 52.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g
Protein: 3.9 g