Last week, my mother-in-law visited from Connecticut. She had only one request for her time in California: a trip to the farmer’s market. A request that I was more than happy to oblige. It was a deliciously gorgeous spring day and I savored the excuse to wander more slowly than usual, stopping at every stall to admire the bounty with the appreciation of outsider’s eyes.
We selected quite a haul for our Sunday dinner. A fresh chicken and carrots in assorted colors for roasting, potatoes for mashing, and sugar snap peas for munching. But the score of the day was definitely the strawberries. Luscious perfumy little jewels that seduced us at first bite. We picked up three baskets so we’d still have plenty left to make a dessert after we had greedily eaten our fill over the sink.
When we got home from the farmer’s market, I lugged a few of my favorite cookbooks out to a sunny spot in the backyard and we poured over recipes for a while (sorry friends, blogging is fun, but there are times when there is no substitute for the satisfaction of a heavy book on your lap), finally settling on the Rhubarb Strawberry Pudding Cake recipe from the Gourmet Today cookbook by Ruth Reichl.
Making this cake with my mother-in-law in the kitchen was one of my favorite moments of her visit. She did the dry ingredients, I did the wet. And we shared the delight in the heavenly smell of the cake in the oven. Sweet, bright and comforting, like family when you need it most.
This is a really easy, no-fuss kinda cake, and it’s more delicious than it is photogenic. I guess they call it pudding cake because it’s so moist you could eat it with a spoon. The note in the cookbook says you can modify the recipe to use almost any fruit your heart desires, and you can bet I’ll be trying it with peaches come July. (Plus raspberries, perhaps?)
The only modification I made to the recipe was to add a little citrus zest (orange + lemon) because we had a few from our backyard trees that weren’t juicy enough for anything else, and it seemed the right thing to do. We served the cake warm with a dusting of powdered sugar, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a few slices of fresh strawberries.
I’ve heard the leftovers are great for breakfast. I’m not saying I’ve tried it, but it tastes great with coffee.
Makes 6 to 8 (breakfast or dessert) servings
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb stalks
1 cup chopped fresh strawberries
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon+ of citrus zest (lemon and/or orange. Optional. This part is Ms. T’s addition–not in the Gourmet recipe.)
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Butter an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish.
Stir together water, cornstarch, and 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan, then stir in rhubarb. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly, then simmer, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in strawberries.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl.
Whisk together egg, milk, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl, then whisk in flour mixture until just combined. Add citrus zest.
Reserve 1/2 cup fruit mixture, then add remainder to baking dish and pour batter over it, spreading evenly. Drizzle reserved 1/2 cup fruit mixture over batter. Grate a little more citrus zest on top. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center of cake portion comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes before serving. (Can be made a few hours ahead of time and served at room temperature or re-heated.)