I’m a huge fan of rhubarb. It’s such a useful and tenacious plant – thriving in all sorts of conditions, requiring next to no maintenance, and coming back faithfully year after year. Plant it once and you have a lifetime source of free food. The leaves are one of nature’s most potent natural pesticides. The red stalks are a cheerful harbinger of spring – generally one of the first edible things up in the garden every year. And best of all, it’s so tasty. Rhubarb just makes good sense.
Rhubarb is native to China and Tibet. The Chinese began harvesting rhubarb, primarily for medicinal purposes thousands of years ago. There are also references to rhubarb in early Arab, Persian, Greek and Roman culture. But it was thought to be Marco Polo who brought dried rhubarb roots back from China in 1271, that initiated the widespread cultivation and use of rhubarb throughout Europe.
The early settlers brought rhubarb to North America, where it was a particularly useful source of vitamins after long hard winters when nothing much else was available. Technically a vegetable, in 1947 a New York court deemed rhubarb a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties.
The health benefits of rhubarb are numerous. A good source of both Vitamin C and potassium, it has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. It’s also an excellent source of dietary fibre and a potent digestive aid. The leaves are poisonous but are safe for the compost bin. If you don’t have a garden, you can grow rhubarb in a large container. Rhubarb benefits from bedding down with manure in the fall but will survive happily without it.
Over the years I’ve experimented with a number of rhubarb recipes. I’m very fond of rhubarb pie. I freeze rhubarb for fruit crumble and a fabulous tart fruit pie made with cranberries, rhubarb and apple. I’ve also made rhubarb chutney, rhubarb cobbler, and stewed rhubarb. But this rhubarb coffee cake is my favourite. It’s great for dessert and even better for a weekend morning breakfast with coffee. Yes, cake for breakfast. In bed. Preferably with the sun streaming through the windows and the birds singing.
Rhubarb Coffee Cake with Crystallized Ginger and Dark Chocolate
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
½ cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups rhubarb, chopped into ¾ inch pieces, you can use fresh or frozen BUT if you are using fresh – you may have to add a little more liquid to the batter- I added 2-3 tbsp of orange juice – but you could also use milk.
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped (you could be generous here and use more. I LOVE ginger but sadly, not everyone else in my family does…)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 350º F. Butter a 9-inch round coffee or bundt cake pan.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla together. Add the flour mixture and blend lightly until just mixed. Gently fold in the rhubarb, chocolate chips, and ginger pieces.
Spread the cake mixture into the prepared pan.
Combine the topping ingredients, working until crumbly. Spread over cake. If you’re using a bundt cake pan and want to serve the cake inverted – you can try putting the crumble mixture in the middle of the cake instead of on top.
45 to 50 minutes I think this is too long – or perhaps my oven temperature needs checking. Try cooking this for 40 minutes. I like my cake nice and moist – so cook it until the top bounces back slightly – but not long enough to dry it out. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve with Greek yoghurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. Although the cake is perfect all by itself.