It is the beginning of May, though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the nightly sub-zero temperatures we’ve been having. It feels like winter isn’t quite done yet, although spring is in full swing. Our seedlings are ready to move outdoors, their bright green leaves eagerly brushing the window pane. The tomato house is built, the veggie beds ready. But we wait, frozen in a transitory moment, not sure if we should crawl back under the blanket or dig out our shorts and flip-flops and schlepp defiantly through the rainy streets.
And thus, cake. With rhubarb, that quintessential spring representative. And because I am experimenting with keeping things straightforward and local, there’s rye flour and rapeseed oil and seeds. I flipped through a favourite baking book (Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce) and perused the blog roll (Rhubarb Crumble Sheet Cake at Green Kitchen Stories) but didn’t quite find that combination of simplicity and respect for regionality I had in mind, so came together a new recipe. Rhubarb, rye and rapeseed — a triple R extravaganza that relies on what grows around you, and is easy to throw together on an afternoon where you can’t quite decide whether to embrace spring or cuddle one last time with winter.
I had doubts about using unprocessed rapeseed oil in this recipe, since the flavour is quite special and strong — nutty, in a way, but unlike the more common almond or hazelnut profiles we are used to. However, it came together better than expected. The slightly snooty lecture I had prepared in my mind about what it really means to eat local — putting up with weird-tasting cake, in this instance — faded away as the cake rose up and spoke for itself. The aroma gets milder as the cake bakes, and compliments the unique rhubarb tartness perfectly. The rapeseeds give that satisfying texture variation that I might otherwise rely on toasted and chopped nuts for. All in all, a cake break winner. Grab a slice, make a pot of tea or coffee, and enjoy watching the rain drizzle down on the impossibly green young leaves of spring.
Rapeseeds are available in some bio shops around town. Feel free to leave them out if you don’t find them. Birnel is a lovely local Swiss syrup made of pears. Substitute a bit of sugar and lemon juice if you don’t have any on hand. I don’t feel like rhubarb needs peeling, since the fibers soften when cooked and I like the pretty pink colour.
Makes 1 26-cm round cake
Dry ingredients 100g wholegrain rye flour 200g white flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 150g ground raw cane sugar 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 1/8 teaspoon vanilla powder / 1 packet vanilla sugar
Mix-ins (see headnotes) 50g rapeseeds 500g rhubarb, cut into 1cm pieces 50g Birnel
Mix the rhubarb and the Birnel in a bowl.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease a 26-cm springform pan with a little raps oil.
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.Whisk the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.
Put the wet ingredients into the dry bowl, and also add the raps seeds. Mix just until combined, then fold in 3/4 of the rhubarb pieces.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, then distribute the rest of the rhubarb on top.
Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden-brown on top, and a knife inserted in the center comes out mostly clean. Let cool for ten minutes, then run a knife or spatula around the rim and carefully remove the springform. Let cool a bit before slicing and enjoying with a cup of tea or coffee on a rainy springy afternoon.