I’ve finally succumbed to Twitter. There. I said it. Phew. #thatfeltgood. I’m pretty sure the constant stimulation isn’t spectacular for my anxiety. But I’m now one twitchy, instantly updated food enthusiast.
I’m not entirely sure how successful my Twitter career will be given my struggle to sacrifice correct grammar and substitute x’s where ‘anks’s and ‘icken’s truly belong. I’m a bit stodgy with this sort of thing. Give me freedom to execute an oxford comma or give me death. So this is a work in progress.
Where twitter-speak truly sings is the hashtag. I’ve become quite taken with its ability to convey wit or sarcasm in lieu of punctuation. For instance, being both a New Yorker at heart and rhubarb aficionado, I instantly took to #rhubarbstateofmind, as noted in Charlotte Druckman's feed.
(Thanks, Charlotte!) (Thx @cettedrucks)
Hashtags aside, I’m a book sentimentalist through and through. And I've recently became intimately acquainted with a certain Nigel Slater; I bought both Tender and Ripe a few weeks ago. I’m reading them like bedtime stories, tucking myself in a few chapters at a time. I am currently up to Nigel’s eggplant seduction, though I cheated with Ripe and went straight to rhubarb. And I’ve eaten close to five pounds of it over the course of a week. (I don’t have to say it: you know what kind of state I’ve been in.)
I’ve been roasting rhubarb with Pinot Gris and spliced vanilla beans. I’ve been blanching rhubarb, letting it get acquainted with radishes and scallions in a spring salsa fashion. And I’ve been making cake. Rhubarb cake. With cornmeal. In Ripe it’s titled "Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Cake"—which is a lovely sounding name and an even better dessert—but I was a bit hesitant to carry on with the polenta namesake. Technically it’s cake, not cornmeal porridge. Though I do see where Nigel is going with this one.
Once baked, the cake’s texture retains creaminess amid crunchy bits, courtesy of the cornmeal, and is reminiscent of the famed polenta squares from Northern Italy. Either way, the coarse cornmeal is a wonderful partner for the slight raciness of rhubarb. I added a bit more cinnamon than originally called for because it plays so nicely with tart fruit. No disappointment there.
In fact, the leftover cake continues to have me under its spell. So much so that I keep forgetting to drizzle the sauce, which the recipe makes as rhubarb byproduct, over top. I have a feeling it will probably make its cocktail début with some bourbon later on this season. Or perhaps as a spritzer. For now, I have plenty of cake to keep me occupied. And I’ve got rhubarb for days.
So I might be wise to loosen up on my tweets, after all. I have quite a few rhubarb recipes that would probably take kindly to brevity. Houston, #wehavearhubarbsitch.
Rhubarb Cinnamon Cornmeal Cake
Adapted from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater
About 1 pound of rhubarb
About 1 cup turbinado sugar (see note), divided
4 tbsp fresh orange juice
Pinch of salt
¾ cup polenta (course ground)
1½ all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
Zest of an orange
10 tbsp cold butter, cut into ½-1 inch pieces
2-4 tbsp half and half
Butter the sides and bottom of an 8-inch springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put a baking sheet in the oven to get it hot. Cut the rhubarb into pieces, roughly 1-2 inch in size, and place them in a baking dish. Grind a very heaping cup of turbinado sugar in the food processor until powdered in consistency. (You may want to grind a little more than this so you have extra, if needed.) Scatter about ¼ cup of the ground tubinado sugar over the rhubarb and then toss with the orange juice and a pinch of salt. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft but still maintains its shape. Place the rhubarb through a sieve to separate out the rhubarb from its juice. Set the juice aside.
Place the polenta, along with sifted flour, baking powder, and cinnamon; ¾ cup ground turbinado sugar; and another pinch of salt in the food processor. Add the zest and butter and process a few times until the mixture is still clumpy but has started to come together in rough crumbles. Mix the egg with 2 tbsp of half and half in a small bowl and then blend it into the dough, being careful not to overmix it; the dough should still look shaggy and will be a bit sticky (add a little more half and half, as needed).
Place about two-thirds of the mixture into the buttered pan so that it comes about ¾ of an inch up the sides. (Look out for any breaks in the dough and push the dough around to cover them up, as necessary.) Scatter the rhubarb pieces on top, leaving some space along the edges of the pan. Crumble the remaining dough on top; there will be holes. Scatter with about 1 tbsp of the ground turbinado sugar on top and place on the hot baking sheet in the oven. Cook for 45-55 minutes or until it is golden brown. Let cool before removing the cake from the pan.
At this stage, you can serve the reserved syrup alongside the cake. I reduced the syrup a bit, adding a pinch of sugar, a split vanilla bean, and a splash of orange blossom water: but it’s in my freezer for now, as I keep forgetting to use it.
Makes 1 cake.
-Nigel calls for golden baker’s sugar, which I couldn’t find. You can take turbinado sugar though and grind it down in a food processor to achieve a similar effect. I measured out closer to 1½ cups of turbinado to grind.
-You’ll want to avoid finely ground cornmeal for this recipe; the course cornmeal texture is a nice contrast in the cake.