10 March 2014

When life sends you rhubarb - make Rhubarb & Custard Cake!

Rhubarb and custard cake.  Now there's a duo of loveliness, embodied in a name.  Firstly, rhubarb and custard - who can resist?  Then, cake!  How on earth do you combine rhubarb, custard and cake, without turning it into trifle?  Well, read on, because it is possible, beautifully possible.

I have introduced you to Ruby, our rhubarb plant, on previous occasions.  We now have two of them, as because Ruby was growing so well (and about to take over the garden), we split her into two.  In this way, RubyTwo was born.  In fact, because a bit fell off and got planted into a pot just to see whether it would flourish - which it did - there was  actually a RubyThree as well.  However, RubyThree has now gone to live with the-neighbour-across-the-road-with-the-caravan and is now happily living in their back garden.  Which means, of course, that we now have one less person to donate rhubarb to when Ruby and RubyTwo are in full production mode.

However (I digress), Ruby and RubyTwo only gave themselves a few weeks off over winter and are back with a bang.  All that water seemed to agree with them and here we are at the beginning of March able to harvest rhubarb that hasn't been forced!  Most unusual - and most delicious!

Hiding its light under a bushel of icing sugar!
During the menu planning round at the beginning of the week, I had put a High Tea on the menu for Saturday.  Son and heir loves a High Tea and it is often an excuse to bake in some way, shape or form.  I had planned to make some yummy sausage rolls to go with coleslaw, but these got shot down in flames for various reasons and, in fact, I escaped doing any baking at all.

I had asked hubby - who is evolving as the Senior Cake Baker of the family - whether he would be able to bake us a cake to go with High Tea, so he set to pondering on what type.  In the meantime, the new BBC Good Food magazine dropped through the letterbox.  Hiding in amongst its plump, luscious pages, was a little booklet of bakes where he spotted the Rhubarb & Custard cake.  The recipe is on their website, at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/10500/rhubarb-and-custard-cake if you should fancy giving it a go yourself.

Ruby during the height of February's storms - completely unbothered.
Now I had given the recipe a once-over look in the past and registered that it was quite an involved process (by my standards), so hadn't ventured to make it.  Hence, when hubby announced an interest in it, I posed the question whether he was prepared for all the stages involved with it and happy that it wasn't too much "fiddling around".  We both hate recipes that have you doing one process here, then getting out a whole other set of equipment for another process there, then back to the first lot for another process - so dull!  However, he'd read it through and was happy with it - so off we went.

I have to admit, I was still in bed dreaming of fairies and unicorns (a.k.a. snoring my head off) when he ventured forth into the garden and gave Ruby her first haircut of the year.  As I was when he baked his first batch of rhubarb for a bit too long and converted it to rhubarb compote.  He was only following the recipe!  Indeed, I had moved on to dreaming of bacon sandwiches for breakfast (a.k.a. snoring even louder) when he gave Ruby her second haircut of the year and successfully roasted his rhubarb pieces by roasting covered for just 5 minutes, then uncovered for another 5-6 minutes - a change to the original recipe that I have reflected in my version below.

I came to at about the time he was ready to put the cake into the oven, mainly because he brought me one of the whisks to taste the custard infused cake batter.  Mmmmn - it was good!

The process, you see, is to dry out the rhubarb by baking it in the oven, then cooling.  Meanwhile, you make up the cake batter - which has the custard mixed in.  Oooh, interesting!  Then, you layer rhubarb and cake batter into the tin, finally finishing with blobs of custard and pieces of rhubarb on top.

It smelled spectacular as it was baking, but took an awful lot longer than the recipe stated.  Either they got the recipe wrong, or nobody tested it before publishing.  In all, I would say that it took about 30 minutes longer than the recipe states - so be prepared if you decide to make it.

Just baked and smelling sooooo good!
All in all, with the false start, it probably took hubby around 3 hours or so to make the cake.  However, is it worth it?  Oh my goodness yes!

The texture is a very different to that of a sponge-like cake.  Throw those ideas out of the window, as although it has significant substance, its texture is robust rather than heavy.  The custard has given the cakey part that lovely vanilla custard flavour that can't help but go so well with the rhubarb that is shot through the cake like little pink stained glass windows.

This cake is the perfect crossover between a tea time cake and a dessert style cake.  It would be as at home with a cup of tea as it is with a drizzle of additional custard and a spoon, so made an absolutely perfect addition to a High Tea.  However, when you add a spoonful or two of the rhubarb compote to the plate, it transforms into a full-on rhubarb lover's treat.

Cooling ..... is it ready, yet?
Yes, you'll need time in which to make this cake - but if you need rhubarb, you know who to ask!

RHUBARB & CUSTARD CAKE    (serves 10-12)

Ingredients :

400g rhubarb
50g caster sugar
250g butter, softened plus extra for greasing
150g ready made custard (Ambrosia, not home-made)
250g self raising flour
half a tsp baking powder
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g golden caster sugar
icing sugar, for dusting.

Method :

1.  Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.

2.  Rinse the rhubarb and shake off excess water. Trim the ends, then cut into little-finger-size pieces.

3. Put onto a baking tray, tip over 50g caster sugar, toss together, then shuffle rhubarb so it’s in a single layer. Cover with foil, then roast for 5 mins. Remove foil. Give everything a little shake, roast for 5 mins more or until tender and the juices are syrupy.

4.  Carefully drain off the juices before you let the fruit cool.

5.  Butter and line a 23cm loose-bottomed or springform cake tin and pre-heat your oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.

6.  Reserve 3 tbsp of the custard in a bowl.

7.  To a large bowl, add the butter, flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla, sugar and remaining custard.  Beat together until creamy and smooth.

8.  Spoon one-third of the mix into the tin, add some of the rhubarb, then dot with one-third more cake mix and spread it out as well as you can - there's no need to be too clinical about this though!

9.  Top with some more rhubarb, then spoon over the remaining cake mix, leaving it in rough mounds and dips rather than being too neat about it. Scatter the rest of the rhubarb over the batter, then dot the remaining custard over.

10. Bake for 50 mins until risen and golden, then cover with foil and bake for 30-40 mins more. It’s ready when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin, then dredge with icing sugar when cool.

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