This weekend we are celebrating my birthday. I’m not one to get too excited about my upcoming birthdays. Most of the time I forget about my birthday, or I would, if not for my mother who always sends me the most thoughtful gifts and tells me my birth story each and every year (and no, I never get tired of hearing it). This year is a little different however, because my son, Emmett who is three now LOVES birthdays. He’s been excited about mine for weeks. To him, birthdays mean CAKE and I cannot let him down.
The fact is, not only am I not a “birthday person” but I’m not really a “birthday cake person” either. Don’t get me wrong, I love sweets as much as the next person but in terms of cakes, I’m much more of an afternoon tea or a breakfast cake eater than a dessert cake type. I am drawn to cakes that are moist, fruity and tart, the kind you could imagine having for breakfast with a cup of tea or coffee.
So, in selecting my birthday cake this year I knew the following:
#1 – I could not forgo cake because, Emmett
#2 – I wanted something in the vein of a “breakfast cake”; and
#3 – after a long Chicago winter and a not very spring-like spring, I wanted something bright, something that would remind me that we are on the precipice of longer, warmer days.
Somehow I knew that Rachel Allen would not let me down. I picked up her fantastic cookbook “Favorite Food at Home” and sure enough, it had just what I was looking for. First, I noticed a Plum and Rhubarb Crisp that is exactly MY kind of dessert, but unfortunately, not a cake (see #1 above). So the final decision ended up being between Sponge Cake with Rhubarb Cream and Upsidedown Rhubarb and Ginger Cake. Talk about a tough decision. Well, until, I thought to whip up some Bird’s custard to spoon on top of each piece of the Upsidedown Cake. Did I mention that I am definitely a “custard person”? That’s when I knew this had to be my breakfast-birthday cake this year.
You know what they say about the best laid plans right? Well, all three of my birthday choices involved rhubarb (which I thought was a safe bet because it is supposed to be rhubarb season), but when I went shopping there was no rhubarb to be found anywhere. Disgruntled but not defeated I decided to find a replacement for the rhubarb but nothing seemed right. After much deliberation and in spite of #3 above, I finally settled on cranberries. Despite their complete lack of seasonality, in terms of taste, I thought they would make the best stand in and I wasn’t wrong.
This cake is both sweet and tart with a terrific texture – moist cake topped with soft pieces of cooked down fruit and crisp bits of caramelized sugar tucked in around the edges of the berries. It really needs no accompaniment. Rachel Allen suggests topping it with fresh whipped cream which sounds amazing. Emmett wanted his with ice cream, also a solid choice. But I am a custard girl through and through.
Because Paul is only selectively fond of ginger (i.e. gingersnaps and gingerbread) I replaced the ginger with some vanilla bean paste and lemon zest. I also used a cake pan because my cast iron skillet is enormous. So I melted the butter on the stovetop, added the brown sugar and cranberries and poured the whole mixture into the cake pan instead of doing it in a skillet. It was birthday perfection and even better the next morning with a big dollop of greek yogurt (or more custard, I won’t tell if you won’t) and a cup of tea. You can bet I will be baking this again with rhubarb as soon as I can get my hands on some.
A Cranberry Cake adapted from Upside-Down Rhubarb and Ginger Cake
from Rachel Allen's "Favorite Food at Home."
Makes: 8 servings
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (divided)
12 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ¾-inch chunks OR 12 ounces of frozen cranberries
1 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk or sour milk
1/3 cup vegetable or sunflower oil
1 generous teaspoon grated ginger OR the zest of one small lemon and 1tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
Softly whipped cream OR Bird’s custard
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in medium (10-inch) ovenproof frying pan. Stir in half the brown sugar and cook over low heat about 2 minutes. Add the rhubarb (cranberries) - no need to stir - and remove from heat. Set aside.
Into a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
In a 2-cup glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk eggs and add remaining brown sugar, the buttermilk, oil and ginger (or zest and vanilla).
Mix together, then pour into dry ingredients and whisk to form a liquid batter.
Pour over rhubarb, in our case, cranberries, in pan. Place pan in preheated oven and bake 30 minutes or until cake feels firm in center.
Cool 5 minutes before turning out by placing an inverted plate over top of pan and turning pan and plate over together in one quick movement. Serve warm or at room temperature.