The living is easy, this gorgeous month of August. I say gorgeous because I’m a positive person, and I like this little weather dance in greys and sun that has been going on for the past couple of days. Right now, it’s spitting outside, which is good for the rhubarb. At least I think it is, and I’m going to find out because my morning swim included a big batch of firm, red stalks. The plant is in my friend Edith’s garden – as is the pool – and I go there often, this week every morning after dropping off Fiona at her catamaran camp. So, twenty laps, a bunch of rhubarb, and now I’m home.
What is the point of the rhubarb? Aili Takala’s Rhubarb cake, the best on earth. It is a very American cake, dense, redolent of cinnamon, studded with tart and tiny squares of rhubarb. It couldn’t be farther from the French version of cake, which is lightened with egg whites, flavored with almonds. Aili’s rhubarb cake is frank, delicious and filling. I’ve never yet met a person who didn’t love it. Aili was a Finnish farmer in Montana – her story is in the Farmhouse Cookbook (Workman 1991, pages 331 and 416).
I’ve created an addiction to the cake in the Leroy household, so Edith begged me to make one and offered the rhubarb. We have a date Saturday morning to go to the Louviers market together. She suggested we take a piece with us to the café where we have coffee – if I do that, though, everyone there will want a taste and I’ll never live it down; everyone will want one of their own!
Aili’s Rhubarb Cake
2 cups diced, fresh rhubarb
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (about 280g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1-1/2 cups (300g) vanilla sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick; 120g)
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Lightly butter a 7 x 12-inch (17-1/2 x 30cm) baking pan.
2. Place the rhubarb and ¼ cup of the sugar in a small bowl, stir, and set aside while you prepare the cake.
3. Sift together the dry ingredients onto a piece of parchment paper.
4. In a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the butter with the remaining 1-3/4 cups sugar until pale yellow and light. Add the egg and the vanilla and mix well.
5. Add the dry ingredients in thirds to the butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingr3dients. Fold in the rhubarb mixture, and then the coconut. Spoon the batter, which will be fairly thick, into the prepared baking dish.
6. Bake until the cake is golden and puffed, and your finger leaves a slight indentation when you press on the top, about 45 minutes.
7. Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool. Cut and serve as you like.
About 10 servings (for normal people…!)