2.17.2011

Lucky souls

Writing about rhubarb in the middle of February feels about as kind as bragging about the bikini you’ll be wearing on that mid-winter escape to Saint Barths. In other words: not very kind. Rhubarb season is still a couple of months off which, in February time – how is it that the shortest month of the year always feels the longest? – is the equivalent of about one million years. But if you’re one of the lucky souls out there who squirreled away some rhubarb last season, and you still have a pound or so in your freezer, you’re going to want to hear about this.




Yes, you’ve seen this cake before. It’s the olive oil citrus cake from Rustic Fruit Desserts that I posted about a year ago. If you were reading back then, you know that I liked this cake a lot. What you don’t know is that it has become something of a wintertime fixation. These days, when I head into the kitchen to bake, the majority of the time it is to bake this cake. Either I am a woman obsessed (perhaps), or this is a very good cake (definitely).

I told you last year that this cake is brilliant all on its own. I stand by that statement, but that hasn’t stopped me from dressing it up from time to time. Powdered sugar, lemon sorbet, the lovely glaze from the original recipe: excellent options, one and all. (Though, for my taste, preferably not all at once.) But now, please direct your attention to the photo, and therein to the rhubarb sauce rolling down onto the plate. Of all of the toppings and accoutrements that I’ve tried, this one takes (makes?) the cake.

I remember the week when I first made this sauce. It was the first week of April last year, and suddenly, mercifully, it felt like spring. Eli came home from climbing that Thursday night with a bouquet of orange ranunculuses, and the next morning I found rhubarb at the market. Before I had even unpacked the shopping bags, the rhubarb was chopped and melting into sugar over a low flame. I had grabbed only a few stalks of rhubarb, so it was a tiny batch of sauce, just enough for a serving or so. I spent the rest of the morning writing letters, and then I spooned the sauce over a drift of fresh ricotta, and ate it with my feet up on the radiator. The sun was so bright, I remember, that I had to pull down the shade. The next day, Eli and I were walking through the park when, out of nowhere, a pillow fight broke out. A pillow fight. Feathers were flying everywhere, and I remember thinking, I thought that only happens in cartoons. A few days later, we decided it was time for our first picnic of the season, but we got home later than expected, and we had to race against the sun. By the time we were outside on the blanket, it was almost a full half-hour after the sun had officially set, but still another full half-hour before it would be truly dark. One of us, probably me, said something about the light, about how blue it was. We ate steamed artichokes, and pasta with mushrooms, lemon, and thyme. We talked about what it means to be brave, and I realized that I don’t know very many brave people, and that I am not nearly as brave as I’d like to be. Then, we lay on our backs for a while until the sky went completely black. I made a second, larger batch of rhubarb sauce that night before bed. I loved that week. It felt important, somehow.

There’s not much to this sauce, really, which is probably why I think it’s so great. (I’m a rhubarb purist.) It’s rhubarb, a few tablespoons of sugar, some vanilla, and a squeeze of lemon. I’ve tried souping it up with orange zest and liqueur, but honestly, I think simple is best here. The sauce is rosy and bright. Very un-February. Just what February needs.

Rhubarb Sauce

1¼ pounds chopped rhubarb (if frozen, do not thaw)
3 Tbsps sugar
1½ tsps vanilla
Juice of ½ a lemon (If you’re making the olive oil citrus cake, too, you can use half of the lemon that you zest for that recipe.)

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium, non-reactive saucepan. Cover and heat over a medium-low flame, until the rhubarb pieces soften and melt into each other. Stir occasionally to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Taste, and add another tablespoon or two of sugar if you prefer a sweeter sauce. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

31 comments:

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Ahhh. That's the sound of February becoming a little easier after reading your post. It absolutely 100% feels like the longest month ever. I notice I start to lose patience right about ... now ... every year. What a nice reminder that there will be light after 6pm and rhubarb (and perhaps a pillow fight?!) in our semi-near future!

Tracy said...

It's good to obsess over cake. And you couldn't be more brave :)

Char said...

i want a dusk picnic now. i've had them in the summer but never this time of year. beautiful.

there are brave people out there - i've met one or two now and again. unfortunately they are probably not me.

Anna said...

Your remembrance of a week long ago makes me think of when the seasons change (we've had a brief thaw and tiny break from winter, but I know spring is still far off here). Each time winter turns to spring the smells and feelings of the air remind me of past seasons or days or a week long ago. I don't have any rhubarb stashed in my freezer, but it's nice to think of spring and memories.

Rogue Unicorn said...

As you probably well know by now, I too have become obsessed with your olive oil cake. I have taken to calling it "a little bit of sunshine cake" since I most often make it during the gray rainy winter months.
I also think that perhaps we all think that we are less brave than we would wish to be but in actuality are more brave than we could imagine. Every day requires a small act of bravery. Like cake. And pillow fights.
The sun is finally shining here again. I ventured out of the house for the first time in days (been sick). The ground is wet and green. Who says its too early for rhubarb?
xo

Lisa said...

Jess. You are so right. This is just what February needs. And you've just reminded me of an evening picnic I once had too, which lasted till after dark. Lovely.

Katie said...

Loved this. And I really hope that you know by now you're a totally brave soul. Brave to the core. In my humble opinion...

megan said...

I like Rogue Unicorn's take on it. I've always thought that bravery has to do with risk, and who really knows what risk is? I do think that loving madly and deeply is one of the riskiest things one can do...and you are one of the craziest lovers of people and things that I know.

miss you -
xx
megan

Chihiro said...

I love the part about the pillow fight. I wonder if rhubarb is similar in concept with cranberries, because I'm obsessed with cranberry compote with tons of plum brandy and orange zest. No more cranberries until November so I can't wait until I can try this rhubarb!

linda said...

today was lovely... with the warm weather & the sight of green grass peeking through the mounds of ice on our lawn…i cannot believe how much i wish this winter to end…
i, too, love your spin on the olive oil cake…& it freezes so well that i have been baking mini loaves…but... i must confess…i have never eaten rhubarb…so i will have to wait for it to appear @ my local market & snap it up!

Rosiecat said...

Absolutely lovely, my dear. I can't get rhubarb down here in Texas--or I've been looking in the wrong places--but your sense of poignancy about time and seasons is even better than anything edible.

Catherine said...

That is such a beautiful cake. It's simple but it looks so elegant, the little black dress of cakes you might say- plain but takes very well to adornments! Your rhubarb looks absolutely gorgeous too, the colour is fantastic and the texture looks lovely.
It seems funny hearing rhubarb being described as a warm weather fruit(/vegetable)- one good thing about living in England is that we have a very long rhubarb season. We don't get summer (or outdoor) rhubarb til about May but from around mid-January we get forced rhubarb (there's more info on wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhubarb )which is always especially strongly coloured, so I always think of rhubarb as being a winter fruit.

Jess said...

A Plum By Any Other Name - Glad I'm not the only one who tends to get February-ed out. And yes, a pillow fight! Apparently, it was International Pillow Fight Day.

Thanks, Tracy. I'm trying, anyway.

Me too, Char. I am so ready for picnic season. Soon, soon...

Things warmed up for us last week, too, Anna. But this morning I woke up to fat snowflakes falling outside my window. Ah well. It was quite beautiful, actually. I know what you mean about the scent and feel of the air during the change of seasons. It always makes me feel hopeful, and excited for what's coming next.

Hi, Tiki. I like your name for this cake. It fits. Thanks for your thoughts on bravery. You're smart, you know? I hope you're feeling much better by now. Enjoy the green. I remember it being so striking over there in the spring. xo.

Lisa - We'll have to schedule an evening picnic together this summer.

Katie, hello. I always love it when your name pops up here. And thank you. By one definition, maybe. But I'm interested in a different kind of bravery lately, the kind that's about making difficult choices and, as Megan says, taking risks. That's the hardest kind of bravery, I think, and the kind I most admire.

And Megan: Oh, you! Yes. It's about risk. And yes, I suppose I am a mad and crazy lover of people and things. Takes one to know one, of course. (I miss you, too!)

Chihiro - That compote sounds heavenly. I also adore cranberries for their tartness, though it's a different kind of tartness from rhubarb. For lack of a better way of describing it, I'll call it an autumn tartness versus a spring tartness. Do you know what I mean?

Linda, you are the queen of the mini-loaves! (You made my walnut cake in mini-loaves too, didn't you?) I quite like the idea of this cake baked in a loaf pan. Thank you for that. And oh, Linda, I cannot wait for you to try your first rhubarb. It's one of my favorite things to bake with and eat.

Rosiecat, the horror! I wonder if it's just too darn hot down there. (And thank you for your very kind words.)

Hi, Catherine. You know, I've seen rhubarb at the market during the winter months, but I've always assumed that it's been flown in from somewhere far away. I've never taken a very close look at it. But maybe it's actually this forced rhubarb you speak of. Interesting. Thanks so much for the link.

linda said...

yes, jess…i have one more walnut mini cake in freezer…but… i have several olive oil cakes nestled in their as well!
thx for remembering! :)

Clarice said...

I'll come back to the rhubarb in a few months! Like others, we had a taste of Spring last week, and even saw crocuses in our yard. Today is a school snow day...I think it's time for sunshine cake!

Jess said...

Of course I remember, Linda! I would like to pay your freezer a visit right about now.

Hi, Clarice. Crocuses! Ah, what a tease. Time for sunshine cake, indeed.

Amanda said...

This is a beautiful post. But also mean. I just took out my last bag of frozen rhubarb from last spring, only to find it was irreparably freezer burned. This recipe would've been perfect! :)

Jess said...

No! I'm so sorry, Amanda. At least spring is just around the corner, so we'll be able to restock soon. Thanks for your sweet note!

Piera said...

I have been making this cake every other week or so, since the first sight of winter in the Northwest. I LOVE that we've been doing the same thing! Every time I make it, I think of you. This makes the cake even more special and enjoyable.

tara said...

this made me a little emotional with happiness and longing, all wrapped up. thank you for it, friend. beautifully, beautifully said.

redmenace said...

First, I love coming here to this lovely blog. It makes my day, really.
Second, I do not have any rhubarb in my freezer. This is very sad, but I do have the first sprouts coming up in my raised beds. Hurray!

Martha said...

Here during blood orange time I am just about to start making that most wonderful cake and freezing it. We will serve it to guests all spring with strawberries. I usually have to give out your recipe too. Thanks for it. Sunny here and pussy willows have bloomed.

Luisa said...

I have to make this cake. It sounds so wonderful. As for bravery, I think you're braver than you think. x

Jess said...

Piera! Hello, my dear. That's right - you're in Seattle, now! Lucky, lucky girl. I'm so glad you're enjoying this cake. Miss you. xo.

And hello there, Tara. Thank you for being here, and for reading.

Hi, Robin, and wow, thank you so much. Wait, and you garden? You are a rock star, my friend.

Martha, I'm smiling hugely right now thinking about you serving this cake to your guests all the way over in Italy. And I love that you pass along the recipe, too! Mmmm, sun and pussy willows? Thank you for that on this cold, snowy night.

Ah, Luisa. Let's hope so. (And yes, make this cake, lady.) xo.

Maddie said...

I love the way you write about quiet, domestic things, like writing letters or walking in the park. There's something really warm and sweet about your descriptions. (Doesn't hurt that this cake looks redonkulously fantastic, either!)

Sheena said...

This cake looks so homely and comforting, and the colour of rhubarb is always so uplifting. When rhubarb season rolls around here, I will certainly try this cake!

Jess said...

Thank you so much, Maddie. I don't think I've ever seen the word "redonkulous" spelled out before. You're rad.

I know what you mean about the color of rhubarb, Sheena. So pretty! I'm so glad you left a note so that I could discover your lovely, lovely blog. Really, it's beautiful.

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen said...

I did squirrel away some rhubarb from last season, what a lovely way to use it!

kamran siddiqi (the sophisticated gourmet) said...

Oh my lord. I am swooning over how lovely this rhubarb sauce looks! That cake? I'm making it immediately with this sauce! I am so thankful for freezers!

Jess said...

Lucky you, Sylvie. Enjoy!

And you too, Kamran. With last season's rhubarb spoils now thoroughly depleted, I'm impatiently awaiting this season's first stalks.

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