Rhubarb and Spelt Upside Down Cake

Most gardeners will be well-acquainted with summery wild rhubarb, but pretty pink forced rhubarb is in season and perfect for winter baking

In the UK, rhubarb celebrates two seasons. In summer, the sturdy, leafy and wild variety blooms; to the delight and, occasionally, despair of growers and gardeners. Wild rhubarb has a tendency to establish itself and rather take over during the summer months.

In the depths of winter however, the delicate, paler variety of rhubarb creeps into season. Grown in darkness then ‘forced’ out of the ground by candlelight, forced rhubarb is the elegant cousin of its wild relation. Its stems are thinner, softer, and dazzlingly pink when poached or roasted. The flavour, while a little sweeter, still packs the perfect punch for fruit-based puddings.

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Upside-down cakes are a wonderful way to make use of seasonal bounty. The warm, soft baked fruit calls for a nutty, textured sponge, and while you could stick with white flour, alternative grains such as spelt or buckwheat work wonderfully in sweet bakes. While not gluten free, these grains are naturally lower in gluten, and are higher in natural nutrients that refined flours.


For the rhubarb:

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400g forced rhubarb

100g caster sugar

1 lemon, juiced

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1 vanilla pod

For the cake:

125g butter, softened

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100g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

25g ground almonds

100g spelt flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp fine salt

Line the base of a 7″ cake tin (not loose-bottomed) with baking parchment, and grease the sides. Preheat your oven to 180C / 160C fan.

Wash and trim the ends from the rhubarb, then cut into neat, 3-4cm batons. Place the rhubarb in a saucepan along with the lemon juice and 50g of the sugar. Slice the vanilla pod in half, scrape out the seeds, and add to the pan. Cook the rhubarb over a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes, until the rhubarb is just soft but still holding it’s shape. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Sprinkle the remaining 50g of caster sugar over the base of the lined tin, and add the vanilla pod from the poaching liquor.

For the cake, cream together the softened butter and golden caster sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until smooth with each addition. Separately, combine the ground almonds, spelt flour, salt and baking powder, then sieve into the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.

To assemble the cake, carefully arrange the rhubarb batons over the sprinkled sugar in the base of the tin. Pack them as neatly and as tightly as you can, as it is more likely to hold it’s shape if it does not have room to spread out while baking. Reserve the rhubarb syrup.

Spread the cake batter over the rhubarb, using a palette knife to carefully level the surface. Do this gently, so as not to disturb the rhubarb pattern you have created. Transfer the cake to the oven, and bake for 25-35 minutes. The cake is done when a cocktail stick plunged into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool for 15 minutes, then carefully run a knife around the edge of the tin to loosen it. Carefully turn the cake out onto a serving plate, removing the tin slowly in case any of the fruit has stuck. Peel back the paper, and brush with the reserved rhubarb syrup before serving.

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Steve Ott
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