Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

By • May 12, 2014 33 Comments

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Author Notes: Melt rhubarb, butter, sugar together in a cast iron skillet, then lay down clumps of sturdy dough onto the warm fruit, less like a blanket and more like a dowdy, misshapen comforter. It will feel a lot like a cobbler, and you’ll worry you’re doing something wrong. Put it in the oven.

The cake’s baking soda will pinch hit, making the batter rise on up to cover any spots of rhubarb you may have missed. (In this way, it’s like a tarte tatin you can’t mess up.) It will grow into a cake. Say a quick prayer and flip it upside-down. You’ll wonder again, briefly, if this is actually a cobbler. Trust it.

What you’ll reveal is an underside that’s a mess of girlishly pink, warm rhubarb jam perched smugly on top of a buttery crumb. "Did you think I wasn’t going to work?" it’ll coo.

This recipe is adapted from Saveur.
Kenzi Wilbur

Serves 8 to 10

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 stick and 6 tablespoons cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • Scant 1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Ice cream or whipped cream for serving, optional
  1. Heat oven to 375° F. Melt 1 cup of the sugar, 4 tablespoons butter, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a 9-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter and sugar have melted together, add the rhubarb pieces and cook, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb is tender and slightly caramelized, 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of your rhubarb stalks.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining sugar and salt, plus flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add remaining butter, and using your fingers, rub into flour mixture to form coarse pea-size pieces. Like Phyllis Grant would say, make like you’re snapping your fingers. Add milk and eggs and stir until a soft, sticky dough forms. If your eggs are on the small side, you may need an extra splash of milk for the dough to come together.
  3. Place pieces of dough over the hot rhubarb mixture, trying to cover the entire surface. It will feel a little like you’re making a cobbler, but the dough will rise up and fill in any holes you’ve left. Bake on a baking sheet until the cake is golden and cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and let the cake rest for about 10 minutes. Place a large, flat serving platter on top of the skillet and invert quickly and carefully. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like, but it’s just as good plain.

Tags: baking, cake, fruit, rhubarb, simple cake, Spring

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Comments (33) Questions (0)

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about 1 month ago Diane

Got rave reviews from my dinner guests when served with a little sweetened whipped cream. Used a mini food processor to cut in the butter (in two batches). I was too lazy to do it by hand or to drag out the big, heavy 35 year-old Cuisinart! Next time, I will reduce the quantity of butter a little bit. Seemed a bit heavy on the butter.

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about 1 month ago tantesophie

Just made this for dessert tonight ... AMAZING ... the best rhubarb cake EVER ... had a bit more than a pound of rhubarb from the first harvest in the garden ... hey ... just put it all in and didn't look back ... go bake a rhubarb cake!!!

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about 1 month ago Valeria Picerno

Very nice simple recipe, but the cake came out way too sweet! I'll definitely try it again with just 1 cup of sugar.

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about 1 year ago Tina Weller

This was absolutely delicious. I added a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg to the cake batter. Thanks for such an awesome recipe!

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about 1 year ago Hold the mayo

Would skim milk work?

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about 1 year ago monacake

i didn't change this recipe a bit and it came out lovely and delicious. the cake had a firm and moist crumb, and the fruit was a nice balance of sweet and tart. nice to have rhubarb stand on it's own without strawberry muddying the flavor. i wouldn't change a thing.

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about 1 year ago Gmarkb

Any risk of adding some strawberries to the rhubarb?

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about 1 year ago Horto

reduced the sugar to just one cup, this better be good!and butter as well

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about 1 year ago Lynn

Lol I just re-read the recipe and found I made a mistake, but I have to say the mistake wasn't even an issue. Instead of using 1 stick plus 6 tablespoons of butter for the topping, I used only 4 TBS total. The result of delicious. So, if you want to use less butter go ahead! Loved this recipe.

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about 1 year ago Awads

oh, i should add: i wound up making an extra batch of the rhubarb topping, to pour over ice cream. we had a gluten-intolerant guest and i didn't want him to miss out on all the rhubarb deliciousness! i can't wait to make the cake again.

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about 1 year ago LauriL

It was as predicted....amazingly yummy! Never too much butter says my palate!!

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about 1 year ago AP

Well I had high hopes!
Way too sweet, the vanilla does not go with the rhubarb!
Really a ton of butter. After tasting I threw the whole thing out.

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about 1 year ago zahavah

After I caramelized the rhubarb, I was left with over a cup of syrup. Are you supposed to have this much? I'm thinking of doubling the rhubarb and halving the sugar and butter. Thoughts?

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about 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

You are supposed to, yes! Lay the dough over the top, and the syrup will thicken and seep into the cake as it bakes.

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about 1 year ago zahavah

Thanks Kenzi!

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about 1 year ago Awads

i made this cake at my MIL's house for Memorial Day, with rhubarb from her garden. Since she has no food processor (or sharp knives, a rant for another day!), i went ahead and used my own hands to get the butter into the dough (i cheated: grated the cold butter with a potato grater!). Also didn't have a cast iron skillet so just used a heavy aluminum. It worked great! The cake has a dense, biscuit like quality. The rhubarb was gooey and sweet. Everyone loved it, and we had it with breakfast coffee the next day! Really a big hit!

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about 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

So happy to hear this.

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about 1 year ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Dee-licious! More people need to taste caramelized rhubarb -- going to make it my mission. First-timer tip: if the cake doesn't want to come out of the pan, then place the pan over medium heat for 30 to 60 seconds (just until you hear it bubbling), then invert it onto a plate -- should release effortlessly. So good, Kenzi -- thanks!

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about 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

So glad you liked it! And great tip. Here's another: I made it again last night, and subbed a tablespoon or so of the white sugar (that goes into the pan) with turbinado, and I think it was the best version yet.

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about 1 year ago Tracy A.

1/3 cup of whole milk, I presume.

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about 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Yes indeed!

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about 1 year ago NancyfromVictoria

Could you use frozen rhubarb?

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about 1 year ago LauriL

It's recipes like this that had me order rhubarb seeds for a patch of my own. Last year when I shockingly found it to be 4.99/lb. I was determined to pay less (as in free) for a 99% water filled fruit. This will be my Memorial Day dessert for sure!! Also, thanks to Eric for such mouthwatering pics!

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about 1 year ago Jason

Any oven-safe skillet should work, no?

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about 1 year ago Kenzi Wilbur

Kenzi is the Managing Editor of Food52.

Yes! As long as it's 9-inch and has nice high sides.

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about 1 year ago Tasha Crookham

thoughts on using a dutch oven?