I was raised by two gardening fanatics. From a very early age I can remember my parent's spending hours rambling about our backyard pruning roses, staking peonies and scattering organic fertilizer in the ferns. When I was young I really didn't care much about their gardening activities, preferring instead to play on the swing-set next to the lilac tree. But now that I am older, and am feeding a family of my own, I have become more interested in their favorite pastime. When we visit my parent's nowadays my daughter and I spend time in their garden, walking between the flowers and vegetables pointing at curiosities like bumble bees and hummingbirds. Together we carefully clip flowers for the vases in the dining room and harvest sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes and peas for dinner. These seemingly mundane activities are fascinating for both of us, we simply stand in awe of the tasty delicacies that can be harvested in our own backyard. Naturally, as a result, after these trips I return to our apartment fantasizing about my dream garden. In my imagination I have already determined that I will grow zucchini, peas, carrots, tomatoes, sweet onions and eggplant. But, above all, I will grow my favorite, rhubarb.
My parent's have always had an enormous rhubarb patch in their garden. When we were young my mother made delicious baked goods from the fresh stalks almost weekly, priming our palates for a lifelong love of the vegetable. Our family's favorite was rhubarb fool, but we also adored her rhubarb crisp, rhubarb preserves, and, of course, strawberry-rhubarb pie. Luckily for me, a few years ago my mother gave me these recipes, along with her helpful notes in the margins. Since then I have made them all dozens of times, yet, despite my impressive cache of rhubarb recipes, I am always on the hunt for more.
My friend, and fellow rhubarb-addict, Barbara knew my history and guessed correctly that I would like this recipe for Rhubarb Almond Cake. It is has a delicious flavor, is child-friendly and takes a very short time to prepare. In fact, the preparation is so efficient that yesterday I Naptime Chef-ed the batter in just 5 minutes(!), leaving me the remaining two hours of my daughter's naptime to tackle other projects. I love this cake because the delicate almond flavor couples so nicely with the sweet-tart rhubarb. It has a tender, moist crumb and is perfect for pairing with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, or, even better, fresh whipped cream. The best part is that this recipe is so flexible it defies seasonality. When rhubarb is not in season (or if you plain don't like it), you can substitute almost any chopped fresh fruit you want. In the past I have used apples, cranberries, blueberries, peaches, plums and blackberries. It is virtually fool-proof, you can't go wrong as long as you make sure the fruit isn't too watery, so it doesn't dilute the batter. Luckily for me I'll be heading back home soon to cut some more rhubarb from my parent's garden. I can hardly wait to get my hands on it, and to grow my own as well.
Naptime's Simple Rhubarb Almond Cake
-adapted from Barbara's recipe and Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
1 c. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 t. pure almond extract
1 1/4 c. chopped rhubarb in 1-inch chunks or smaller (or any other fruit)
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Butter and flour 9-inch cake pan.
3. Scatter fruit evenly on the bottom of the pan and set aside.
4. Mix first five ingredients in a large bowl until fully combined.
5. Pour batter over fruit in the cake pan and sprinkle top lightly with sugar, this will make a nice crust.
6. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Naptime Recipe Props: I don't know if there is a simpler cake in the whole world. It is delicious everytime, no matter what fruit you use. It is also a great way to use up fruit that you have in your kitchen, nobody will protest when it is put into a cake!
Naptime Stopwatch: The batter of this cake takes about 5 minutes to prepare and about 40 minutes to bake. It is very efficient to make and requires only the easiest of stirring.
Naptime Reviews: My daughter loves this cake and can't get enough of it. Everyone I have served it to loves it as well, it perfect for a summer luncheon menu, or at a cookout.