Orange and Cardamon-Scented Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Thursday, April 5, 2012

This easy upside-down cake recipe stars rhubarb in a moist, golden cake studded with sweetly caramelized fruit. It makes a lovely spring dessert (or special-occasion-only, you-didn’t hear-it-from-me breakfast). Click here for the full recipe.

With spring comes a variety of fabulous fruits and vegetables, including asparagus, peas, and rhubarb. Of course, in New England spring doesn’t happen for a while, so finding such treats grown locally isn’t possible. After several weeks of the constant barrage of recipes, tweets, and posts dedicated to these favorites, I thus broke down. You all know how I cherish my local farmers’ markets, but I am a realist rather aware of the global food system in which we live. I eat locally as much as possible, and I love it; I’m also grateful that many wonderful foods are available year-round, which contribute substantially to my health and happiness. Some things I consume regularly will never be local, after all, including such staples as coffee, avocados, olives, and nuts.

Getting back to rhubarb – hey, it’s in season somewhere – my purchase was stimulated by my desire to bake. I grew up baking but don’t do it frequently, as keeping sweets around the house is generally not a good strategy for healthful eating.  Sunday was a special occasion, however, as my husband’s family was in town for a visit.  I had dreamt of making a coconut cake with vanilla buttercream on a bed of bright blackberry coulis, but such an undertaking requires more time than I had. That would have been divine, as coconut actually is in season right now in Boston. (I’m kidding, I hope you know. Come on.) Nonetheless, I’m a fan of the upside-down genre, which is quicker to prepare and stars seasonal fruit. Not unimportantly, they also tend to have fewer calories than many other cakes, double-layer coconut cake slathered in silky buttercream included.

I modified this recipe from Bon Appétit, which is actually for a plum upside-down cake I made last summer. (See how infrequently I bake cakes?) Modifcations include the following: (1) Replace cinnamon with 1 tsp cardamom; (2) Replace almond extract with 2 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice; and (3) Add 1-2 teaspoons orange zest. Why do this? Why not! Orange is classically combined with rhubarb, and cardamom is a warm spice often used in Indian baking, making a classy substitute for cinnamon. The result was lovely, though next time I’ll probably add a bit more cardamom as the flavor was more subtle than I’d have liked. I served the cake with Grand Marnier-infused whipped cream and a sprig of mint.

Incidentally, this cake also pairs beautifully with a morning cup of coffee, not that I encourage such things. Fortunately, the cake you see served 7 at dinner and I left half of the remains with my in-laws, thus bringing home only 2 additional pieces for breakfast dessert for my husband and me.

See now why I don’t keep cake around the house?

General Cooking and Baking Reminders

It is always good practice to read recipes through in their entirety before embarking on any culinary venture. I do in fact do this and you should, too. Yet, sometimes the baking takes a bit longer than expected when I’m using my convection oven, in which case I run out of time. This is a big deal when making an upside-down cake, as it needs to be turned upside down after the proper cooling time to make sure that (a) it comes out of the pan at all and (b) it comes out of the pan in one piece. Now, of course I am always running late, especially when trying to bring food, such that I had to carry the right-side-up cake in the car with me, hold it for 30 minutes, then carefully invert it in the car. Did I mention this was a brand new car? We had just picked it up the day before. I am not making any of this up.

I am delighted to report that my mad baking skills resulted in no disasters, despite the additional challenge of completing the process in a moving vehicle. Luckily, my cake, er, turned out beautifully despite my less-than-stellar planning.

Nevertheless, if you make this splendid and pretty cake at home—and you should—I’d go ahead and try to do the turning-over part in a stationary environment.

Learn more about food personality and health expert Dr. PK Newby here, or her experience as a nutrition scientist, professor, and consultant here. Or click here if you just want to ogle food porn featuring plant-based, globally inspired cooking.


Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

Copyright © 2011-2020 P.K. Newby. All Rights Reserved.

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