It’s Memorial Day! Like many towns across the U.S., Princeton, N.J. holds a parade to commemorate the brave men and women who gave their lives to defend our country. The parade was held on Saturday and some of our friends stopped by for a quick cup of coffee and cake before we walked downtown to watch the parade.
I wanted to make something with rhubarb before the short season slips away, but not the usual strawberry/rhubarb crisp or pie that I normally make for dessert. A crumb-type cake seemed more apropos for breakfast fare, and I found a delightful recipe for one on Let Her Bake Cake that included cornmeal among the ingredients. The recipe calls for coarse cornmeal, which I thought worked great. But if you’d prefer a crumb without the crunch from the grittier meal, use a finer textured one.
I also peeled the rhubarb, something I’ve always done when making pies or other desserts. But I think next time, I’ll leave it as is, since peeling it also removed most of the pretty red color. It doesn’t matter so much when you’re combining rhubarb with another red fruit like strawberries. But all on its own, its pale green interior isn’t that attractive without the red outer layer, even though it tastes terrific. The cake tastes great the next day too, when I took the above picture of the last remaining piece. But after it sits covered in plastic wrap, the coating on top starts to lose its crunch.
Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake
1 pound rhubarb
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 Tbsp water
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp coarse cornmeal
1 1/3 cups all purpose or plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
grated zest of a small orange
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp butter, diced
1 large egg
2-4 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 8in cake pan, preferably springform. If you don't have one, use a regular cake pan but grease very well, line the bottom with a circle or parchment paper, and grease again.
Trim the rhubarb and chop into pieces a couple of inches long. Put in a baking dish with the sugar and water and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but still retains its shape. Drain the fruit and set aside you can reserve the juice to serve with the cake if you wish.
Put the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the grated zest and the butter. If using your hands, rub the butter in as if making pastry - until the mixture resembles large crumbs. If using a food processor you just need to blitz for a few seconds, and if using a stand mixer, mix on low to medium speed for about 30 seconds.
Break the egg into a small bowl and mix with the milk. Now add slowly to the crumble mix, stopping as soon as everything has come together to form a soft, sticky dough. You may not need all the liquid, or you may need a little more milk to get the right consistency.
Press about two thirds of the crumble mixture into the bottom of the cake pan, pushing a little bit up the sides of the pan. Place the rhubarb on top, being careful to leave a small rim around the edges uncovered. Crumble the rest of the mixture over the fruit in fat lumps, using your fingers - don't worry if the fruit isn't all covered. Scatter over the brown sugar.
Bake for 40-45 minutes. Cool the cake a little before removing from the pan.
If you’re still with me, here are a few scenes from Princeton’s Memorial Day Parade:
And a high school marching band
And fire trucks
And kids waving flags
And a Korean dance troupe (doesn’t everybody?)
And a choo choo train
And a calliope (complete with tiger) piping out “Yankee Doodle Dandy”
And I just couldn’t resist another cute kid toting a flag