Rhubarb & Strawberry Upside-Down Cake

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I’ve never been a big Valentine’s Day person. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to celebrate a day that seems to have mainly become about eating chocolate, but I don’t really need the red carpet to roll out for me as soon as I wake up on the 14th. One of my favorite Valentine’s Days was when Jonji simply hid chocolate bars all around the house with accompanying Harry Potter themed cards, a couple of which were so well hidden that I found them days after. That’s how high my expectations go. But generally, the most we do to celebrate is maybe have a drink and/or I’ll bake something sweet for dessert.

We’ve been renting a sweet little house in San Jose while Jonji finishes up his job at Stanford, and the house has a lot going for it: the little wood-burning stove, the sweeping mimosa tree over the lush lawn in the backyard, the huge raised beds already set up with a drip system for our gardening needs, the polished wood floors. There’s also a random rhubarb plant poking its bright red and green stalks into the air just beneath the mimosa tree. Now, you can’t watch as much Great British Bake Off as I do and not want to make all the mouth-watering variations of rhubarb and custard that the contestants make, despite the fact that I’d never actually experienced anything made with rhubarb until we moved to this house. I’ve made a couple of batches of strawberry-rhubarb jam (very tasty), but otherwise haven’t taken advantage of the prolific plant as much as I should have.

So here’s a little something with rhubarb to celebrate love in all its forms; make it for your partner, your family, your work friends, or make it for yourself—I don’t imagine anyone is overdoing it on the self-love front. I don’t normally theme my posts, but since this one was destined to fall on the actual holiday, I figured I could at least throw a heart on this cake and call it a day. As luck would have it, my heart looked nothing like a heart (and more like a broken one at best) once the cake was turned onto a plate, but the cake itself was incredibly soft and tasted deliciously bright from the citrus and fruit, and that’s all that really matters. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Note: you can totally make this cake without the strawberries! They just add a little extra texture and surprise when you cut into the cake. Feel free to get creative with different fruit in the cake or on the top, but if you choose softer fruit (think berries) you may end up with more of a jam top (which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just different).

Rhubarb & Strawberry Upside-Down Cake

Makes one 9-inch cake | Adapted from Zoe Bakes Cakes by Zoë François

for the caramel bottom
1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 4 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1 tbsp orange liqueur (optional), I used Grand Marnier
6-8 medium stalks chopped rhubarb, fresh or frozen
Flaked almonds (optional)
Pinch of salt

for the cake
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, at room temp
1 1/2 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (55g) almond flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk, at room temp
1 tbsp orange liqueur (optional)
100g quartered strawberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter or spray. Line the bottom and sides with parchment paper, then grease that as well.

Stir the 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) butter, 1/2 cup (100g) sugar, 1 tbsp of the orange liqueur (if using), and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, until the butter’s melted. Pour into the lined springform pan, then arrange the rhubarb chunks in whatever design you please. If using, sprinkle the flaked almonds in and around your design.

Cream the 3/4 cup butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for about a minute. Add 3/4 cup (150g) sugar, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, and the lemon zest from 1 lemon to the butter and beat on low until incorporated, then turn the mixer to medium-high and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to ensure even mixing. Turn the speed to low and add the 2 eggs one at a time, mixing until just combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl after each egg.

Meanwhile, whisk the 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup almond flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp kosher salt together in a medium bowl. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together the 1/2 cup (120ml) buttermilk and 1 tbsp orange liqueur.

With the mixer running on low, add one third of the flour to the butter mixture until just combined. Add half of the buttermilk mixture and beat to combine. Repeat the another third of the flour, then the rest of the buttermilk mixture, and then the last third of the flour. Mix to combine, then scrape the bowl and paddle and beat for another few seconds, until the mixture is completely homogenized.

Scrape the cake batter into the pan over the rhubarb (try not to disturb the design too much) and smooth the top. Drop strawberry pieces all over the cake batter, pushing them down a bit into the batter (they won’t sink much into the cake during baking).

Bake for 55–60 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into it comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then run a knife or offset spatula around the edge and undo the side of the springform. Invert onto a serving plate and let the cake (and base) drop onto the plate. Gently remove the base and parchment paper. Serve a little warm or at room temperature. I wouldn’t say no to eating this with a little whipped cream or even creme anglaise, but it’s also wonderful on its own. Enjoy!

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