If I can cook it, you can cook it And I'll travel the world to bring it back home to you.

Rhubarb Pound Cake from Melissa Clark in The New York Times

Rhubarb Pound Cake from Melissa Clark in The New York Times

Rhubarb grown in greenhouses is always the first to appear in Rhubarb season. It’s grown for those people who simply cannot wait to cook with these rich, red stalks.  So growers rush out ‘hothouse rhubarb’, which is a brighter red, sweeter tasting and more tender than what comes from the ground. After our particularly wet and cold Spring, local Rhubarb has finally made its appearance.  And Andrew could not wait to work with it.

Marco Polo searched for Rhubarb in China.
Chinese Rhubarb

I’ve long associated Rhubarb as being quintessentially North American and well remember it growing up in Montreal.  We even grew it in our own garden which was quite a surprise since the only other edible we grew there were potted chives.  But Rhubarb is not North American. Rhubarb has been grown in China for thousands of years.  Its roots were prized as medicinal; it was used as a laxative.  It was one of the first Chinese medicines to be imported to the West from China. Brought along the Silk Road, it reached Europe in the 14th century.  Because of its long journey across Asia, Rhubarb was expensive costing several times the price of other high value herbs and spices like Cinnamon, Opium and Saffron.  Marco Polo went on a search for Rhubarb which he found in the mountains of the Chinese province of Tangut.  It was mentioned in the same breath as “rubies, diamonds, pearls” and rhubarb.

Because it was so expensive and in so much demand from apothecaries, huge efforts were made to cultivate Rhubarb in Europe. What they grew however never matched the medicinal qualities of the Chinese varieties.  However, the variety grown in Russia, called “Siberian Rhubarb”, became the ancestor of what is grown today.  As sugar became less expensive and more widely available, Rhubarb as a culinary tool took hold.

Rhubarb came to America as early as the 1730s where it was planted for both medicinal and culinary purposes by one John Bartram.  Thomas Jefferson wrote about his plants at Monticello: “Rhubarb, the leaves excellent as spinach.”  The stalks were a relatively recent entry into the kitchen. And as sugar became affordable, their use grew and grew.

The annual arrival of Rhubarb at our local Bridgehampton farm stand, is always cause for Andrew to bake something Rhubarb.  This year, his contribution to Rhubarb season was a great-tasting cake which Melissa Clark wrote about in The New York Times.  Ms. Clark pointed out that finding a Rhubarb cake recipe was never an issue but finding one that was also great-looking was a greater challenge.  She pointed out that because Rhubard is so full of moisture, it often turns into ‘a beige mush’.  Here she poaches rhubarb in sugar which candies the stalks so they not only keep their shape, they become far less tart.  And by poaching them, you can also add a secondary flavor, in this case, Vanilla. And it the “waste not, want not” category, the syrup used to poach the rhubarb is reduced to a glaze that’s brushed over the cake for shine and moisture.

Then there’s the cake itself. Who doesn’t love a great, moist Pound Cake dotted with vanilla beans?  Especially one this beautiful with its glossy stripes of rhubarb. The only caveat her is to buy the reddest stalks you can find…even though they’ll turn pink after poaching.

From Melissa Clark: “This tender poundcake has slivers of vanilla-poached rhubarb running across the top and shot through the center, adding a tangy sweetness to the buttery crumb. For the most vivid stripes, use the reddest rhubarb stalks you can find. They will fade to hot pink after poaching and baking. Green rhubarb also works; the cake won’t be quite as striking, but it will be equally delectable. This cake is best served within a day of baking. After that, the rhubarb will start to dry out.”  Here is the recipe:




Rhubarb Pound Cake from Melissa Clark in The New York Times

June 6, 2018
: 12
: 30 min
: Not difficult at all

This tender poundcake has slivers of vanilla-poached rhubarb running across the top and shot through the center, adding a tangy sweetness to the buttery crumb.


  • For the rhubarb:
  • 8 ounces rhubarb stalks (about 3 to 4 large stalks)
  • 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped with the tip of a knife and reserved
  • For the cake:
  • 1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 ⅔ cups/200 grams cake flour, plus more for flouring the pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ⅓ cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped with the tip of a knife and reserved
  • 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • Step 1 Cut rhubarb stalks to fit crosswise inside the top of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. (They should be about 5 inches, but they could also be a little less.) You’ll need enough rhubarb to cover the top of the cake in the loaf pan, plus a few extra pieces in case any split during poaching.
  • Step 2 In a medium pot, combine sugar, 1 cup water and the vanilla bean and seeds, and bring to a boil. Simmer until the sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Stir in rhubarb, simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Cool to room temperature, then slice rhubarb in half lengthwise so you have long, thin pieces. Reserve poaching liquid.
  • Step 3 Heat oven to 350 degrees, and butter and flour the loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Step 4 In a small bowl, whisk together milk, vanilla extract and vanilla seeds.
  • Step 5 In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition. Beat in half the flour mixture until just combined, then beat in milk mixture until barely combined, scraping the sides of the bowl. Beat in remaining flour mixture until just combined.
  • Step 6 Scrape half the batter into prepared pan, then lay half of the rhubarb slices in an even layer on top of the batter. Cover with remaining batter, smoothing the top.
  • Step 7 Bake cake for 20 minutes to set the top, then remove pan from the oven and quickly lay the remaining rhubarb slices next to each other on the top of cake. Return pan to oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean, another 30 to 50 minutes.
  • Step 8 While cake is baking, bring rhubarb-poaching liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer
  • Step 9 Continue to simmer until thickened and syrupy, about 10 minutes. Brush some syrup on top of cake once it comes out of the oven. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack before serving, at least 2 hours, then carefully remove the cake from the pan and serve.

2 thoughts on “Rhubarb Pound Cake from Melissa Clark in The New York Times”

  • Rhubarb is one of my favorites. I usually make or buy a rhubarb or strawberry rhubarb pie at our local farm for Thanksgiving. I also am a fan of strawberry rhubarb jam. I’ve never seen a poundcake made with rhubarb, quite original and like the way the stalks form a nice design over the top. Adding this to my baking list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.