Individual Rhubarb Pudding Cakes
It’s here! Only a single stall at this past weekend’s farmer’s market had some, but (one of the many) advantages to showing up at the market as soon as it opens is that I get first picks of the small supplies of the season’s first arrivals, when they’re just starting to trickle in.
Our market runs from 9-3, and while some people like to make a leisurely day of it, arriving around lunchtime, browsing around, munching on the various tacos or samosas or stir fries available from all the food vendors, I have a different approach (though browsing is fun, our market gets mobbed around midday and I don’t like fighting through crowds to score a few stalks of rhubarb.) I get there right as it opens, do an initial pass by all the stalls to see who’s offering what that week, pick and choose what I’m going to buy, and zip on out. I have things to cook, after all! Actually, I’m not all business; I’ve gotten to know a few of the farmers and vendors there over the past year, and I do make time to stop by and chat with each of them, which I really enjoy. But all in all, I’m usually in and out in less than an hour. I farmer’s-market-shop with a purpose.
Anyway, back to the rhubarb: are you as excited as I am that it’s finally in season? One of the reasons I love rhubarb so much is due to the fact that it’s the first “fruit” of the season that comes into season locally in spring (actually, it’s a vegetable, not a fruit, but transforming it from its tart original state with a little sugar does lend the rosy stalks to such delicious dessert creations, doesn’t it?) Living in a Zone 5 climate, where our winters are long and growing seasons are on the shorter side, the appearance of these decidedly spring season crops at the market feels very, very welcome after many months of kale and root crops.
I set aside a few stalks to make a rhubarb simple syrup, which we’re enjoying in homemade rhubarb soda (definitely give this a try if you’re looking for a new way to use a surplus of the stalks!)
But spring wouldn’t be spring without an inaugural fruit dessert, right? The first dessert I made with rhubarb was these individual pudding cakes. I have my Mom to thank for turning me on to this recipe; she made it with strawberries and rhubarb (which I will be doing once strawberries make an appearance here!) and raved about the results. With good reason, too; the pudding cake is tender, moist from the rhubarb syrup baked into the bottom and spooned over the top, and just the kind of homey, old-timey dessert I like to tuck into after a lighter spring meal (over the weekend, it was a simple spring pasta with asparagus, kale rabe, chicken and herbs.) So thanks, Mom, for the suggestion!
I think one of the reasons I like pudding cakes so much is because they’re very similar to cobblers, with the proportion of fruit:cake tipped more in the cake direction. Some days I’m in the mood for more cake, others I’m in the mood for more fruit (in which case a cobbler is the answer), but whichever direction you go, they’re both delicious.
And because I will not hesitate to make any dessert in individual portions, I opted to do the same for this pudding cake, baking it in 1-cup ramekins. The transition between the cake layer and the fruit layer at the bottom is deliciously moist and a little bit syrupy.
What are you doing with the season’s first rhubarb? I’d love to know!
Individual Rhubarb Pudding Cakes
Adapted from Gourmet, April 2007
Since I used just rhubarb, I increased the sugar slightly to 1/2 cup from the original 1/3 cup in the recipe for the syrup portion. If you use strawberries, use only 2 cups of rhubarb and stir in 1 cup of strawberries after you’ve simmered the rhubarb in the sugar/water/cornstarch mixture.
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar, divided
3 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with the rack in the middle. Butter 4 individual 1-cup ramekins (or, an 8-inch square baking dish.)
Mix together the water, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then add the 3 cups rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and remaining 1/2 cup sugar.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined — you’ll have a thick batter.
Reserve 1/2 cup of the rhubarb syrup mixture. Divide the remaining rhubarb mixture among the dishes, then spoon the batter evenly into each ramekin over the rhubarb. Drizzle the remaining rhubarb mixture over the top of the batter in each ramekin. Bake (I put all my ramekins on a small sheet pan) until a tester inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.
Cool on a rack slightly before serving.
Makes 4 generous servings (we like our pudding cake!)