I’m a sucker for a romcom, even though it rarely mirrors real life. In the midst of a grey Melbourne winter made extra cold by lockdown 4.0, a two-hour romance that has no resemblance to my normal life is an escapist guilty pleasure. You can write the script of course – They hate each other until that moment they don’t.
Which brings me to rhubarb.
Rhubarb is more of a polarising food than most – you either love it or hate it, there’s no in-between. If you hate it, you have my commiserations, for I think you have been given a poor introduction. Think of it as the Mr Darcy of the vegetable world – if you don’t approach it with proper care, you’ll likely find it off-putting, too tart, with not enough sweetness to overcome its astringency. But oh, how it rewards a second look.
If you are now curious, or at least willing to try it one more time, can I suggest you give this upside- down cake a whirl. Of course, you could substitute the rhubarb for another, perhaps prettier fruit –
sliced pears work wonderfully – but this is all about giving an ugly and much maligned food the luxe makeover it deserves. Paired with brown sugar the rhubarb softens and sweetens, but the addition of a lemony syrup gives this sponge a soft stickiness to make you fall in love all over again.
It’s best served with your choice of movie. No guilty pleasure required.
Butter and 1 tbsp soft brown sugar for the base of the tin
1 bunch rhubarb (if you can, use thinner stalks)
380g (2 cups tightly packed) soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (250ml) white wine
1 cup (250ml) sunflower or other vegetable oil
2 cups (310g) plain flour
2½ tsp baking powder
120g fine polenta
¾ cup (185g) white sugar
⅓ cup (80ml) water
½ cup (125ml) lemon juice
½ cup apricot jam, mixed with 3 tbsp hot water and pushed through a sieve
Preheat oven to 160°. Butter a 25cm springform tin and sprinkle the extra brown sugar over the base.
Cut the rhubarb into batons and lay them in an even layer over the base of the tin. Cover the entire base quite tightly if possible.
Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until very light and creamy. Add the wine and oil and mix in gently. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the wet mix. Add the polenta and mix gently.
Pour the cake mix gently over the rhubarb so as not to disturb them and bake in the oven for 80 minutes or until firm in the middle.
While the cake is baking, combine the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
Remove the cake from the oven and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Prick the warm cake all over with a toothpick and use a dessert spoon to spoon the syrup, allowing it to soak into the sponge.
Brush the warm apricot glaze over the top of the cake to show it off. Place on a platter and stand back to admire your work. Serve with cream, romcom optional.