>Kitchen Smackdown! Rhubarb Cake!

>

As mentioned in my last post, I was recently gifted with HEAPS and HEAPS of rhubarb. That same day, I’d examined the three rhubarb plants in our front yard and saw that they were more than ready to be cut. What to do with so much rhubarb? The sweet-tart, and sweet-sweet-sweet answer, is after the jump.

I used some of it to make rhubarb chutney. Chutney is a condiment typically made from fruit and some spices simmered in a vinegar-based liquid until everything softens and comes together a little. It’s used with meats and poultry and can be served alongside a cheese plate for a tart bit of refreshment. A simple party trick is to pour some over cream cheese or goat cheese and serve it with crackers.
There are many kinds of chutney out there. Perhaps the most well-known is mango chutney (and if you have some laying around  and it’s cold where you are, like it is in Seattle right now, go make this.) I’d never made chutney before, but 40 pounds of rhubarb can be very inspiring. For a good recipe, I turned to Food in Jars (as I often do) and found this delicious-sounding recipe. I followed it to a T (well, used red onion, and simmered 35 minutes) and now have six pints of rhubarb chutney. I see many cheese plates in my future.
A warning: don’t try this recipe when it’s very warm. You might accidentally inhale hot vinegar and sear your throat on hot acid and that might lead you to believe that you don’t like the chutney you’ve slaved over. Just sayin’.
  
The sweet-sweet-sweet reference above is a cryptic clue to last week’s cake-off. Faced with the last of the rhubarb still languishing in the fridge, I decided to dive right in and initiate a new type of post here called Kitchen Smackdown! The name is because I don’t mind a little violence, and because I think categories are a very very good thing.
The inaugural Smackdown features two kinds of Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake. The “bottom” of each cake was the same. I tossed largely-diced rhubarb in sugar (just eyeball it here, enough to lightly coat each piece when you stir it around) and a little lemon juice. Let this sit for a while, and if the rhubarb hasn’t yielded a lot of liquid, you’ll want to add some. Apple or pineapple juice works well, but you could use just about anything, even water. After the sugar has dissolved, pour the rhubarb into the bottom of the greased pan (note that each cake is a different size) and add some of the juice. I added just enough to make a sheen all over the bottom of each pan, but you could definitely do more; both cakes will soak it up nicely. I knew I was making two cakes, so I did about two pounds of rhubarb total. I’ll indicate the approximate amounts for each cake below.

Cornmeal Buttermilk Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
 adapted from The Joy of Cooking. If you don’t own this classic compendium, go buy it.

About 1 1/4 pounds rhubarb, diced and sugared as described above. 
Grease a 9″ x 13″ pan and spread the rhubarb on the bottom.
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
2 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 c cornmeal
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

In another bowl, beat until creamy 
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 c) butter, at room temp (about 65˚)
then beat in gradually, about 3 to 5 minutes,
1 1/3 c white sugar
After the sugar and butter are combined to be creamy and slightly fluffy, beat in slowly
3 eggs (at room temp; put them in a bowl of warm water when you start the recipe)
1 t vanilla extract

Keep the mixer on low and add the flour in three parts, alternating with
1 c buttermilk
in two parts, scraping everything down after each addition. 

Pour the cake batter over the rhubarb and gently spread as needed to even. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then put a plate or tray bigger than the cake pan upside down over the cake pan. Use your thumbs to hold it in place, and in one smooth motion flip the whole shebang over and set the serving tray on the counter. If you’ve greased the pan well, the whole thing should slide right out without breaking. 

Rating: This cake was light and delicious. The buttermilk lent a nice tangy note, and the corn added a tiny bit of crunch and kept the cake from being overly sweet. It was actually so light and not-too-sweet that I served huge squares (5″ x 5″) and nobody complained. It would be a nice spring-time alternative to a coffeecake.


Next up:

Classic Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake
also adapted from The Joy of Cooking. Seriously, it’s great.
about 3/4 pound of rhubarb, diced and sugared as described above, spread in the bottom of a greased 9″ square pan. 
Preheat the oven to 350˚.
Whisk together in a small bowl
2 eggs 
2 T buttermilk
1/2 t vanilla

Whisk together in the bowl of the mixer or another large bowl
1 c flour
3/4 c sugar
3/4 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt

Add
6 T (3/4 of a stick) soft butter
6 T buttermilk

Beat on low until the flour is barely moist, then increase the speed to medium (high for a hand mixer) and beat for exactly 90 seconds. Add one-third of the egg mixture, beat for exactly 20 seconds, and scrape the bowl and beaters. Repeat twice. Scrape the batter over the prepared rhubarb and spread to even. Bake until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let the cake cool completely, then invert it onto a cake plate or platter. 

Rating: This is classic pineapple upside-down cake batter. It’s very yellow and has a dense, moist texture. We ate it the day after baking and it still tasted very fresh. It was much sweeter than the other, and had a spongier texture.
The Moment of Truth: 
Preparation: Both cakes were easy to prepare. (Full disclosure: I have a KitchenAid stand mixer. This machine makes many things easy to prepare.) The timing notes on the classic cake were obnoxious, but in the end the batter was perfectly smooth.
Looks: Obviously these cakes looked very similar. One was bigger. I liked how the classic cake looked better, simply because it seemed the syrup had soaked into the cake a little more during baking. The rhubarb mixture on top is not super attractive; it’s sort of pink and green and brown. Either cake would go well with fresh whipped cream.
Taste: I polled everyone who ate both kinds. The majority liked the classic cake better, because it was sweeter. I liked the buttermilk-cornmeal cake better, because it wasn’t as cloying and was a little lighter in the mouth. I also like how this cake is a bit unexpected for an upside-down. In a good vote tally, majority rule might carry the day, but this is my blog.  
The Winner: Cornmeal Buttermilk Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake!
Let me know if you try either recipe. The Cornmeal Buttermilk Cake would also be wonderful plain, served with whipped cream and fruit. (I’m thinking preserved plums in winter.) 
Any suggestions for future Smackdowns?