Friday, 29 April 2011 | 10 comments

Ginger cake with poached rhubarb

I had my recipe picked out. I was all ready to make it and tell you about my new love affair with the BBC Food website, which, unlike other big recipe aggregation sites was actually useful, well-organized, and really original because of its British flair.

Several of their recipes hadn’t failed me yet, so when I got home from the market toting my first-of-the-season rhubarb, I pulled up BBC Food and found (under the ‘Afternoon Tea’ section for spring, no less) a recipe for warm ginger cake with poached rhubarb. I was sold. I blindly gathered all the ingredients, glossed over the instructions, and got to work, visions of a soft, gingery cake with sweet-tart rhubarb syrup drizzled over the top dancing in my head.

Something occurred to me as I mixed, though. There were a lot of eggs in this batter. And not much flour. And (reading the directions, now) what the heck is a “pudding basin”?

And my love affair with the Brits promptly ended for the week and left me feeling a bit put-out and frustrated, because what was labeled a ‘cake’ was actually that British favorite eggy-custardy-spongy pudding, molded into individual portions (this is, I gather, is what the ‘pudding basins’ were for), rather than the fork-tender crumb-y ginger cake I had pictured. I stirred the batter darkly, muttering mutinous things to myself that may have included to references to “the shot heard ’round the world” and my continuing annoyance at this other England-related affair which somehow (?!) made the front page of the Washington Post several times this week (I have lost all faith in the media).

Wills and Kate aside, I was five eggs deep and couldn’t turn back. Lacking pudding basins, I tested the batter in several containers—some baby brioche tins, some ramekins, and dumped the rest in a regular buttered cake pan. The ramekin version was okay. Please don’t try making pudding in a cake pan. And the brioche pan was a bit of a win, if you like that sort of thing:

The best part was the poached rhubarb on top. I already wrote about how the simple syrup from this recipe was an excellent cocktail ingredient, but turning the rhubarb into a cake-topping compote with a bit of yogurt was sheer brilliance, and so I’ll forgive the Brits for calling something a ‘cake’ that obviously wasn’t.

Realizing how good the poached rhubarb was just rendered me more regretful that it wasn’t sitting atop that crumb-y ginger cake I had envisioned. So the next day found me in the kitchen, again, reading recipes very carefully and finally ending up with the cake to merit the rhubarb.

I love cakes like this. It’s what Deb would call an “everyday cake.” And it’s one of those un-iced cakes that I can’t stay away from. Sadly, all the pinkest, prettiest rhubarb had been used up by the impostor pudding-cake, so I didn’t photograph the ginger cake with rhubarb. But while it might not have been as gorgeous as the ruby rhubarb, the greenish-pink stuff that graced the top of the ginger cake was just as good.

Ginger cake with poached rhubarb

You will need

    For the cake:
    2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    A 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated on a box grater, to make about 1/4 cup grated ginger
    1 1/4 cups demerara sugar (You can use normal white sugar if you can’t find it)
    12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    3 large eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup buttermilk

    For poached rhubarb:
    1 cup white sugar
    1 cup water
    4-5 stalks rosy rhubarb, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces

    For assembly:
    Heavy cream


    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

    Whisk together dry ingredients except for the sugar. Beat together the ginger, sugar, and butter until creamed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after adding each. Add vanilla and mix well. Alternately add dry ingredient mixture and buttermilk, until all is well-incorporated.

    Pour batter into the ban, and bake for 40-50 minutes, until cake is still tender but a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool, then invert onto a plate or cake stand.

    For the poached rhubarb, heat the sugar and water in a thick-bottomed pot, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the rhubarb, and boil for 2-5 minutes, until rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape. Strain and set aside both the syurp and the rhubarb.

    For assembly, whip some heavy cream along with some of the rhubarb simple syrup (taste to desired sweetness) until fluffy and floppy but not too stiff.

    Slice cake, top with whipped cream, poached rhubarb, and a drizzle of the rhubarb syrup, and serve.


§ 10 responses to Ginger cake with poached rhubarb

  • Hi Sarah,

    Would the coarser grains of turbinado sugar be a detriment to the texture of the cake? I have been looking for a good everyday cake recipe for a while now, and this looks like it could be the one! Thanks!


    • Hi Brianne—Absolutely use the turbinado. You’ll see that the recipe calls for demerara sugar, which is (similar to turbinado) a browner, less refined, larger crystal sugar. It goes well with the ginger in the cake.

  • Connie

    Ah the Brits. Just to keep things confusing, they call any dessert a pudding. Apple pie, Victoria sponge cake, raspberries and cream…anything you fancy for ‘afters’.

    • Ha ha, Connie—that was the confusing part! They called it a ‘cake’ instead of a ‘pudding’. But it was definitely a pudding. A sponge, yes.

  • BBC food section? Cake-pudding misunderstanding aside, that’s amazing! I look forward to exploring it more. As for your cake(s), they really do look lovely despite your disappointment with the original recipe. And the rhubarb looks divine. I would have never thought of poaching rhubarb but it seems like a stroke of brilliance. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Hi there. Food on Friday: Ginger is open for entries. This looks like a good one! I do hope you link it in. This is the link . Please do pop back to check out some of the other links. Happy New Year!

  • Lore

    If you’re confused by the different names for desserts, how do you think a non-native English speaker feels ;-). Any luck in figuring out the difference between a cake and a pudding? And more questions of kind: sponge vs cake, loaf vs. cake, loaf vs bread vs cake etc? Any help you’ll be able to give me, is much appreciated!

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