thematically speaking

It appears that, without even meaning to, I've created a theme. A rhubarb-sour-cream theme. You'll remember that the last time I was here, I gave you a sour cream custard with spiced rhubarb. Well, I've brought rhubarb and sour cream with me again, but in a very different form. Please meet the Rhubarb Upside Down Sour Cream Coffee Cake.

This dessert is what happens when you've got leftover rhubarb and sour cream staring at you from the fridge, and you're craving cake. Needing to come up with an after-dinner treat for Easter provides the additional motivation to make something special, but chocolate-free.The result is a rich, fluffy coffee cake with a sticky, caramelized fruit top. And as it turns out, this cake makes no particular claims to Easter, being equally suited to mid-morning munching and evening gatherings. (I should know. I've had it for both.)

But before we get too into the cake-talk, let's go back to Easter for a minute, because that day had a couple of its own themes that I'd like to point out. Remember the sheep we visited last Easter?

We went back to the farm this year, towing children who were much more excited about petting and feeding the animals than they were last time. Funny the difference a year makes. In fact, this theme of visiting lambs on Easter has now been so enthusiastically embraced that we've already made a date to do it again next year! And Wylie asks to go back to the lambs almost every day. The kid would love to live on a farm.

After getting our annual shepherd fix we returned home to a delicious meal of . . . roast leg of lamb. In fact, it was the leg of one of the very lambs we had met last Spring. While some might be uncomfortable with that, I loved it. The full-circle-ness of having our bodies nourished by animals we had a year earlier helped feed felt like one of the best ways to eat meat. Short of moving onto the farm, there's not much better way to help kids understand where their food comes from, and when it's local, free-range, succulent lamb, it results in a meal with a lot to feel good about. And I was so pleased (and relieved!) that Kalen and Wylie took it completely in stride, accepting that the meat we eat comes from animals we are sometimes lucky enough to visit with. It was a very wholesome experience.

After dinner, when we could all move again, we had the rhubarb coffee cake, and it reminded me that we had rhubarb last Easter, too - yet another theme that I'd love to see repeated next year. Shouldn't be too hard, seeing as rhubarb is one of the first Spring plants to show up in the markets here in the Northeast!

So about this coffee cake. The one we ate on Easter was beautiful. Huge, glistening with caramelized rhubarb, with an irresistibly crunchy, sweet bottom crust. I didn't take a single picture of it. For one, stopping everyone from eating so that I can play at food photography isn't really my thing. But also, I planned to make it again anyway, because I wanted to see how it reacted without using xanthan gum. I figured I'd get a better photo at home, where I could control the setting more. If only I'd known.

I made a mini, scaled-down version this week (which is what you do when you realize you've only got one egg left!), and I have to say, it was delicious. Maybe even more so than the Easter version, because I baked it a bit longer and the rhubarb got even more caramelized. It held together just fine without the xanthan gum, so if you are one of the growing number of people wary of the use of gums in gluten-free baking, I'm happy to tell you that sour cream coffee cake doesn't need gum!

But . . . speaking of holding together. As beautiful as the cake was on Easter when we unmolded it, this mini cake was a bit disastrous. The streusel apparently lost its grip on the soft cake beneath it, and when I upended the pan it fell off in big chunks around the edges, leaving a wobbly, unbalanced cake to tilt crazily on the plate, like an edible Weeble. The photo below shows it in all its crusty, intact glory.

You may notice that there's a slight peak at the center of the cake. Well, after all the rest of the streusel fell away, that peak became the pivot point on which the now-sorry-looking cake rocked. The blurry cake in the background of the photo below? It's only maintaining its upright position because I propped it up with puzzle pieces. (They were flat, stackable, and scattered all over the place.) But the cake's flavor was so good that it was hard to get really worked up about its messy appearance. Plus, all those streusel pieces that jumped ship were perfect for snacking on, and oh so addictive.

Just as long as it isn't the first wave of a new "dessert flops" theme, I'm happy.

Rhubarb Upside Down Sour Cream Coffee Cake
yields one 10-inch cake

Streusel topping:
105 gr Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
96 gr light brown sugar
60 gr granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp cinnamon
scant 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
84 gr unsalted butter, melted

Cake batter:
377 gr sour cream
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
195 gr Tara's gluten-free all-purpose flour
210 gr Tara's gluten-free pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum (optional)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
170 gr unsalted butter, room temp
300 gr granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Rhubarb "topping":
60 gr unsalted butter
120 gr light brown sugar
270 gr rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Make the streusel:
Whisk together the pastry flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir to thoroughly combine. Set aside. Streusel may be refrigerated at this point for up to a week, or frozen for up to three months.

Make the batter:
In a small bowl, mix the sour cream and baking soda and set aside to activate.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flours, xanthan gum if using, baking powder and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs one at a time, and then the vanilla, scraping down the bowl between additions. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Add the flour mixture and sour cream mixture alternately to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the bowl between additions, and mix on low speed until just combined. At this point the batter may be refrigerated overnight if making in advance. It will stiffen quite a bit - this is fine, it will just be harder to spread in the pan. I find using wet fingers to push the cold batter in place works best.

Make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heavily butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch round cake pan.

In a small skillet set over low heat, melt the 60 gr butter for the rhubarb topping. Once the bubbling has subsided, sprinkle in the 120 gr light brown sugar. Cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved.

Pour into prepared cake pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Arrange rhubarb slices in pan, skin side down, to cover the bottom.

Spread half of cake batter evenly over rhubarb. Sprinkle half of streusel evenly over batter. Repeat with remaining batter and streusel.

Place cake pan on a baking sheet (to catch any overflow) and bake in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the center is firm and a tester comes out clean.

Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a platter to finish cooling. (If any rhubarb or caramel sticks to the pan, scoop it out and quickly pat it in place on top of the cake. You don't want to miss out on any of it!) Serve cake warm or at room temperature. Cake keeps, wrapped airtight at room temperature, for up to 4 days.


  1. Hello there, just found your blog and also just found out my oldest daughter is allergic to wheat which makes me want to find some great blogs that have gluten free recipes. Your blog looks like one I'll like. I'm going to have to get used to cooking and baking a little differently.

  2. This looks absolutely luxurious, and, as luck would have it, I have some ruby stalks hanging out in my fridge. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Valerie - Thanks so much for stopping by! I'm glad you like what you see. Feel free to poke around, and drop me a line if you have any questions. Gluten-free baking can seem confusing, at first, but you'll soon find that it doesn't need to be at all. Check out the Gluten-Free Ration Rally posts for some great inspiration! I hope your daughter is doing well!

    Molly - Thank you! I'm thinking I should plant some rhubarb this year, seeing as I get obsessed with it every Spring - I need a more consistent source! Hope you enjoy the cake!

  4. Waw, Tara!

    Your rhubarb & sour cream gf upside down cake looks just irresistable, apart &ooh so pretty too! :)

    Many greets from sunny Brussels!

  5. Sophie - Why thank you! Greetings to you, from cloudy & wet Maine! ;)


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