rhubarb big crumb coffee cake

rhubarb big crumb coffee cake

I’ve always wanted to cook with rhubarb but never seemed to get around to it. Mostly because by the time I’d think about it or see a recipe for it, rhubarb was not in season.  I’m quite familiar with this lanky vegetable masquerading as fruit.  I’ve seen many recipes where it’s paired with strawberries to become pies, crisps and tarts.  The standard rule seems to be if  a recipe has red berries in it throw in a few chopped stalks of  rhubarb to perk things up.  I didn’t want to make a typical pie and I wanted to do something where the rhubarb stood alone and wasn’t paired with another fruit.

I had made up my mind to make a rhubarb galette when I came across a blog post from Smitten Kitchen where she made a coffee cake that had rhubarb in it.  This was definitely more interesting than pie.  Of course by the time I got past thinking about making it and was actually ready to make it rhubarb season had come and gone. 

Last fall I got this really great cookbook by New York Times food columnist Melissa Clark. It’s a  compilation of writings and recipes from Melissa’s column that appears every Wednesday in the Dining section of the times.  The book is called In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite. 

You”ll hear me say I love many things but really, this book is amazing. I am addicted to Melissa’s mouth-watering prose and her recipes are easy to make but not at all typical. As I was reading Melissa’s book I came across a recipe for a  Rhubarb ” big crumb” coffee cake and I wondered could this be the same as Smitten Kitchen?  Well, it turns out Smitten Kitchen is a fan of Melissa’s as I am and that the recipes are one and the same.  It appeared in Melissa’s column a few years ago.   It was a treat to match Smitten’s beautiful pictures with Melissa’s recipe. 

I looked forward to Spring  this year because finally we’d have some reassurance that warmer days were ahead and I would at last get a chance to make the rhubarb crumb cake.  This time I knew I wouldn’t forget because I had Melissa’s book in my bag as a weighty reminder.

I had everything I needed for the cake in my pantry except the rhubarb.  A quick trip to my local farm and in the next few minutes I had beautiful scarlet stalks that were already trimmed of their leaves.  Since I never tasted rhubarb before I tasted a small chunk and while I wasn’t overwhelmed by its raw form I knew that once cooked it would become soft and tart and slightly sweetened.

This cake was worth the wait.  Golden, buttery and loaded with airy crumbs on top of crumbs that don’t budge when you slice through them. The rhubarb has a surprising taste that reminds me of fresh squeezed lime and cherries.  The moist, tarty rhubarb pairs well with the sweet cake.

I made this cake twice already and can’t wait to make the galette.  And maybe I’ll even make a rhubarb pie.

Recipe:  Melissa Clark’s Rhubarb ‘Big Crumb’ Coffeecake

Time: 1 1/2 hours, plus cooling

Butter for greasing pan


1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger


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 melted butter

1 3/4 cups cake flour


1/3 cup sour cream

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup cake flour

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 together sugars, spices, salt and butter until smooth. Stir in flour with a spatula. It will look like a solid dough.

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. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter and set aside.

4. Scrape remaining batter into prepared pan. Spoon rhubarb over batter. Dollop set-aside batter over rhubarb; it does not have to be even.

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.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. michele says:

    It looks delicious!! I usually make a strawberry/rhubarb crisp, where the strawberries are the star of the show. Now I’ll let the rhubarb star! And who doesn’t love a big crumb? It’s the best part.

    1. kathyme says:

      This coffee cake is really good! If you’re used to rhubarb and fruit in any type of crisp or crumble you will be pleasantly surprised by it’s appearance in a crumb cake of all things! If you make this cake Michelle, don’t be surprised if the rhubarb sinks to the bottom- it happened to me both times I made it. If you make it and the rhubarb doesn’t sink please let me know your secret! Kat.

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. Donna says:

    OMG…This looks like the PERFECTION VERSION of Melissa’s classic recipe…WHAT did you do to get the HEIGHT on that crumb?…I will ONLY refer to your variant…promised! Also…out of season…is frozen ‘barb a potential substitute, or not?

    This exquisite offering has “Brunch” stamped all over it…Much appreciation for your photographic and culinary prowess.

    1. kathyme says:

      Hi Donna and thanks! I just followed Melissa’s recipe exactly. I even wrote to her about the sinking rhubarb and she replied back. Most fruits will do that. I would substitute blueberries in a pinch if all your rhubarb has disappeared from the markets.

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