My mom begs me to stop baking. “Please Chaya, no more cake!” she pleads, as I pull another one from the oven. And I have to admit, I understand where she is coming from. The cake in question, topped with shiny, lacquered chunks of rhubarb, smelling deeply of orange and vanilla, is one in a long line of cakes the oven and I have recently collaborated to produce, as I fiddle with ratios, fruits and formulas.
This one is good, better than any of my previous attempts, and because it is difficult to resist good cake, it goes from circle to half moon to quarter to gone. My mom, a now wavering crusader, admits it was delicious. I taste it and agree. But I can’t help but think that we shouldn’t have to “resist” cake. Cake should be effortless, guilt-free, and rather than hard to resist, easy to embrace.
So here it is. For my Mama, a compromise cake that tastes nothing like a compromise. Spelt flour lends a pleasant, wholesome flavor to the batter and pistachios, ground finely into powder, add their distinctive nuttiness. Ricotta and yogurt help ensure the crumb is fluffy and moist, and the rhubarb, this cake’s crowning glory, is roasted before being baked on the cake, so it’s caramelized and silky soft.
This cake is innocent enough to have for breakfast and pretty enough to serve as dessert. I love that it’s versatile enough to play around with, and I imagine I’ll try it with various roasted stone fruits- I think plums would be wonderful here- throughout the summer. But mostly, I love that this cake is virtuous enough for my Mama to enjoy with a cup of tea, guilt free. For the woman who gave me life, is my biggest supporter and never lets me compromise, here is a compromise, in the form of cake, that I think she will finally agree on. Happy almost Mother’s Day!
Yields: one 8″ cake, serving 6-8
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Why I love this recipe: roasting the rhubarb before baking it atop the cake brings out caramelized notes and dairy in the form of yogurt and ricotta give this cake a moist crumb. Light spelt flour, combined with nutty ground pistachios, gives this cake a lightly sweet, wholesome flavor which makes it acceptable to eat for breakfast, and a sprinkle of granulated sugar gives this seasonal cake a crackly sugar lid.
Notes: if the cake is browning too quickly, tent it with foil. You can reserve the remaining roasted rhubarb to serve atop the cake, or you can stew it up with strawberries for a delicious compote, serve it over pancakes or eat it with ice cream. It’s delicious!
Variations: use whole wheat, rye or all purpose flour in place of the spelt. Substitute almonds for pistachios. Use all yogurt or all ricotta in place of a mix of the two. Roast plums or apricots and use in place of the rhubarb. Use orange blossom water instead of the vanilla extract and roast the rhubarb with cardamom.
For the rhubarb:
- 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut crosswise into 3-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup vanilla sugar
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
For the cake:
- 1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, finely ground
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups white spelt flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup full fat ricotta
- 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
- rhubarb, from above
- pistachios, to sprinkle over the cake
- whipped cream, sour cream or yogurt, for serving
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-inch-round, 2-inch-deep cake pan and line bottom with parchment; butter parchment.
- Meanwhile, toss together rhubarb, 1/2 cup vanilla sugar and the lemon juice on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, just until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove, and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
- Add the ground pistachios, spelt flour, baking powder and salt to a bowl. Mix until well combined.
- Beat together remaining 1 stick butter and 1 cup granulated sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, scraping down the bowl as necessary to ensure everything is well mixed.
- Add the ricotta and yogurt in a bowl and mix until well combined.
- Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the combined ricotta and yogurt.
- Transfer batter to pan and smooth top. Arrange about 3/4 of rhubarb over top; refrigerate remaining rhubarb in syrup until ready to serve. Sprinkle cake heavily with granulated sugar and bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour, 20 minutes.
- Let cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Run a small sharp knife around edges. Invert onto a cutting board, then immediately flip onto rack; let cool completely.
- Chop remaining rhubarb and serve cake with whipped cream, sour cream, or yogurt, topped with rhubarb and drizzled with rhubarb syrup.