When I was growing up it was compulsory to take home economics in the first two years of high school. I used to love those weekly lessons with Mrs King who was tasked with teaching us the basics of cookery. And by basics, I mean basics. Grilled tomatoes and lemon delicious pudding made from a packet were some of the recipes that come to mind. However on one occasion we were given a recipe and a demonstration of how to make a pineapple upside down cake. I thought it was a thing of beauty – especially the maraschino cherries proudly adorning the centre of each canned pineapple ring! It’s a retro throwback now but It was the first “serious” cake I ever made on my own and boy was I proud of it. Upside down cakes back then were all the rage but they went out of fashion for a while which was such a shame, luckily they’re making a comeback and this caramelized rhubarb version shows just how far the upside down cake has come. Making a caramel for the rhubarb slices to sit on not only makes it easy for the pieces to be strategically placed without moving around but the sweetness of the caramel contrasts beautifully with the slightly sour tang of the rhubarb. The cake portion is more or less a classic cake batter but the addition of sour cream ensures a lovely moist and dense crumb. If you’re a fan of rhubarb you’re going to love this cake and if you’re not then simply replace it with your favourite fruit – pears, apples, plums would all work well or stick to good old fashioned pineapple rings, maybe minus the cherries.
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
40g unsalted butter, cut into large dice
680 g fresh rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ¾-inch slices – about 1 large bunch
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
130g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
60g cold unsalted butter, diced
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch-diameter, high round cake pan (don’t use a springform pan as the caramel might leak out during baking). Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, cut to fit, and grease the paper.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring; increase the heat to high, and cook, occasionally brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization, until the mixture turns into a golden caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter, one piece at a time (be careful: the mixture will bubble up furiously). Carefully pour the hot caramel into the bottom of the prepared pan. Arrange a circle of rhubarb slices around the outer edge of the pan, on top of the caramel. Arrange the remaining slices in the centre, covering the caramel completely.
To make the crumb topping, place all the ingredients in a bowl and and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble. Set aside.
To make the cake batter, preheat to 180C. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and vanilla extract and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat at high speed until the mixture is lightened in texture and color. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. At low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating it with the sour cream mixture in two additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix just until blended. Spoon the batter in large dollops over the rhubarb. Smooth the batter into an even layer.
Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the batter and bake for about an hour, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Set the pan on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan. Using pot holders, very carefully invert the cake onto a cake plate or platter. Peel off the parchment paper, if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.