Red, Red, Rhubarb

I’ve had a fascination with rhubarb ever since I was a kid and my parents would treat us to a Marie Calendar’s Pie.  There were tons of delicious options, but I was always drawn to their Strawberry Rhubarb pie. I never knew what rhubarb was – I just knew it was delicious, and that’s when my little crush began. Years later my crush turned into a bit of an obsession after I had an unbelievable pancake with rhubarb compote in Portland. But after a failed attempt to recreate that lovely masterpiece, my crush fizzled.

Until now.  With the weather warming, and that striking red fruit showing up at the market again, I can’t seem to get it’s long, sultry red stalks out of my mind.

After an indulgent trip to the local Farmer’s Market I was able to get a batch of hothouse rhubarb, which is typically redder and slightly sweeter than the fresh-from-the-garden rhubarb which is ready April – May. I quickly went to one of my daily reads, Smitten Kitchen, to see if Deb had any wonderful recipes for me to try. She did not disappoint.

Behold – Big Crumb Rhubarb Coffee Cake. Heads will turn and dishes will be scrapped clean when you present this lovely breakfast-dessert-concoction to family, friends or co-workers.

The big crumb portion of the dish is gently flavored with a dash of ginger, cinnamon and a large dose of melted butter, flour and brown sugar. The batter is simple with the addition of sour cream, which will bring a little tanginess and moisture to the cake. The star of the show is tossed with more ginger, cornstarch and sugar.

Once you’ve dirtied every bowl in your kitchen, you can assemble the cake. Pour the batter into your greased pan, top with the rhubarb mixture and all it’s juices. Top with the crumb. You will need to break it apart, but make sure you keep the pieces large.

Now bake low and slow. The rhubarb will soften and sweeten as the cake bakes. Once cooled, dust with a little powered sugar and serve with a hot cup of coffee or tea. You may want two pieces. Consider this your warning.

I baked this a couple of times, and the cake would cook over some of the crumb. If this happens to you – don’t worry. It will still taste delicious.  It just won’t look as gorgeous as you would like. If you have a trick to avoid this annoying little baking mishap, please do share.

Big Crumb Coffee Cake

Adapted from the NY Times by Deb from Smitten Kitten

Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 55 minutes

6-8 Servings


Butter for greasing pan

For the rhubarb filling:

1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

For the crumbs:

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick or 4 ounces) butter, melted

1 3/4 cups cake flour (All-purpose works too)

For the cake:

1/3 cup sour cream

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup cake flour (ditto on the all-purpose flour–worked just fine)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan. For filling, slice rhubarb 1/2 inch thick and toss with sugar, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside.

2. To make crumbs in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then, add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon. It will look and feel like a solid dough. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

3. To prepare cake, in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and a spoonful of sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition, and scraping down the sides of bowl with a spatula.

4. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter.

5. Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size. They do not have to be uniform, but make sure most are around that size. Sprinkle over cake. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean of batter (it might be moist from rhubarb), 45 to 55 minutes. Cool completely before serving.



  1. Valerie says:

    Rhubarb is my absolute favorite, as it grew wild in our backyard in Michigan and my grandmother made the most delicious rhubarb pie. Although no cook, I will make a fumbled attempt at this recipe.

  2. I, also, grew up with lots of rhubarb in our garden in Wisconsin. I LOVE it. This recipe sounds fantastic. Can’t wait to try it.

  3. I love this recipe and can’t wait to try it! I have such fond memories of eating Rhubarb pie in my Nanas kitchen in upstate New York. Thank you for thus one I am so excited to try it!

    • i’m so glad everyone has such fond memories of Rhubarb! Go out and buy some because it’s in season!

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