Rhubarb and Buttermilk Loaf Cakes
Rhubarb and Buttermilk Loaf Cakes

Rhubarb and Buttermilk Loaf Cakes

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    Serves 12 (Makes 2 cakes; each cake serves 6)
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Trust me on this one, these loaf cakes are absolutely delicious! A friend recently gave me an armful of her finest outdoor (maincrop) rhubarb, so I could not resist the temptation to put it to very good use.

I love this recipe; my grandmother used to bake a lot of cakes using buttermilk and her baking was superb. From what I can remember, she used to make her own butter and the milk deposits (or buttermilk) from making the butter were no good for drinking, but they were perfect for baking. She could never throw anything away and so she regularly used the buttermilk in her baking.

My mother, also a great baker, always makes her own version of buttermilk using a much quicker method, by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to fresh milk, then letting it sit and curdle for 10 minutes or so. She calls it lazy man’s buttermilk and uses it in her baking too. Well, these two wonderful ladies have got full life experiences behind them and I am not going to argue with them!

The reason I like using buttermilk in my cakes and breads is because it has a natural acidic taste that gives baked goods extra flavour. It’s like adding vanilla to your cakes; vanilla provides flavour. In my opinion, the same can be said about buttermilk; it adds flavour, character and depth.

Apart from the fact that these loaf cakes taste amazing, they also keep well for a few days. The texture remains moist even after a couple of days or so of storing (if they make it that far!).

The rhubarb needs to be poached in advance – keep the syrup from the poached rhubarb and use it to make a delicious drink, such as one of those featured in my Rhubarb and Rose Pressé recipe. For this cake recipe, the rhubarb can be poached conventionally or in a vacuum bag in a water bath (see Cook’s Notes).photo of Rhubarb Buttermilk Loaf Cakes

Ingredients & Method

For the poached rhubarb

  • 500g fresh outdoor (maincrop) rhubarb or forced rhubarb
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 250ml cold water
  • 1 tablespoon grenadine

For the buttermilk loaf cakes

  • 120g unsalted butter, softened
  • 170g caster sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
  • 2 large eggs
  • 170g self-raising flour
  • a pinch of table salt
  • 4 tablespoons buttermilk

For the rhubarb and honey glaze

  • 100ml rhubarb poaching syrup (from the poached rhubarb above)
  • 1 tablespoon clear honey

First prepare the poached rhubarb. Trim, wash and cut the rhubarb into 8cm lengths. Place the rhubarb in a saucepan, sprinkle over the sugar, then add the water and grenadine. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer, then cook gently for 8–10 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Once cool, use a slotted spoon to remove the poached rhubarb to a dish, then cover and chill in the fridge until needed. Pass the rhubarb syrup through a fine sieve and use some for the glaze and the rest as a pressé for drinks (see intro above).

Next make the cakes. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line two 15 x 9.5 x 7cm loaf tins and set aside.

Cream the butter and 170g sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Sift over the flour and salt, add the buttermilk and mix well until combined.

Divide the mixture between the prepared loaf tins, levelling the surfaces, then place the slices of poached rhubarb on the surfaces of the cake batter, covering the entire surfaces (just let the pieces sit on top, do not press them into the batter).

Bake the cakes in the oven for about 45 minutes or until cooked, well-risen and golden brown. Insert a skewer between the rhubarb slices to test if the cakes are cooked in the centre – if the skewer comes out clean, they’re cooked; if it’s still moist, return the cakes to the oven for a few more minutes or until cooked. Remove from the oven and leave the cakes to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before turning them out.

Meanwhile, make the rhubarb and honey glaze. Mix the rhubarb poaching syrup and honey together in a jug.

Carefully turn the cakes out onto a wire rack, placing them on the rack so the rhubarb slices are on top (facing upwards). Spoon over the rhubarb and honey glaze, then sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons caster sugar. Leave to cool completely. Serve in slices.

Wrap the cooled cakes in non-stick baking paper and then store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3–5 days.

These cakes are rich and the rhubarb pieces provide a lovely decoration, so I tend to serve them in slices on their own, but you could serve the slices with crème fraîche or Chantilly cream, if you like. Or, for a delicious dessert, serve chunky warm slices of the cakes with thick custard or ice cream.

Cook’s Notes

For cooking rhubarb in a water bath, put the rhubarb, plus a couple of tablespoons each of grenadine and caster sugar in a large vacuum bag and seal on hard vacuum, then cook in the water bath at 80°C for 10–12 minutes until the rhubarb is just soft to the touch. Remove and then chill over ice. This can be done up to a week in advance, if the bag is left unopened. Once the bag is opened, use within 3 days.

When you are ready to use it, drain the juices from the poached rhubarb. Use the poached rhubarb for the cakes, then use some of the poaching syrup for the glaze (the rest is perfect for cocktails or refreshing non-alcoholic drinks).

Any leftover rhubarb poaching syrup will keep in a covered bottle or container in the fridge for up to 3 days.