It has been many weeks since I last baked, never mind wrote about it, but with good reason. May and June are the busiest gardening months when everything bursts into life at full throttle and the garden is at its most gorgeous but most labour intensive phase. Plants that 3 weeks ago were leaves popping though the soil are now overflowing with greenery and flowers. All of that takes time and effort in normal years, but this year we volunteered to open the garden for the the village Open Gardens event, which meant that little bit of extra effort to keep it looking at its peak which left even less time for baking than normal.
However no baking at all is a sad state of affairs so I set to last weekend. This time of the year my 2 rhubarb plants burst into life producing kilos of beautiful pink stems that need turning into comestibles over a very short time period. The sheer quantity a mature plant produces presents a challenge.
There is only so much Rhubarb Crumble (covered in lashings of custard and still my favourite rhubarb recipe) that 2 men can eat (and frankly it is more of a winter than summer pudding), and I still have jam made 3 years ago that we haven’t consumed, so making the rhubarb into jam was not really an option. It was back to the internet for recipes. An unsweetened compote of rhubarb goes very nicely with pork but other than a few old standards, the Anglo-Saxon websites did not prove a rich treasure trove. BBC Good Food had a total of only 40 recipes none of which really appealed. I headed back to Germany which proved far more enlightening and fruitful. The German equivalent of BBC Good Food, www.chefkoch.de , has 1,639 recipes! Picking one for my venture into rhubarb was not easy, but I saw a layered torte that I decided to adapt slightly and make my own which I have called Rhubarb and Custard Cake – a true english nursery food classic in cake form.
The cake itself is delicious but it had some flaws and I have adapted the recipe here to compensate for them. The original recipe involved a layer of sponge, followed by meringue, rhubarb compote, whipped cream (this was a German recipe so of course there was whipped cream), sponge and then meringue. The meringue was baked on top of the sponge and looked a little rough and ready for my liking. It definitely needed some adapting. My plan was to replace the whipped cream with vanilla creme diplomat (creme patissiere, whipped cream and gelatine), and to do the top layer of meringue using Italian meringue piped and browned off with a blow torch which would like a lot prettier.
After a heavy day’s labour in the garden I set to at about 8pm. Now I should know 8 pm is not a good idea when cake making especially when I am adapting an untried recipe inventing my own. The whole baking meringue on top the sponge thing was an utter disaster. Firstly the sponge doesn’t cook properly and it is absolutely impossible to get the layer off the baking parchment without destroying it. It had to be thrown out as you can see and I will never try something like this again.
The disaster meant the layer had to be made again – deep joy all round as the pleasure of making this cake was rapidly diminishing. I scraped off the meringue on the wasted layer and used it but frankly I wouldn’t bother with this intermediate meringue layer again.
The other mistake was fully lining the tins. The cake mixture is quite stiff and spreading it into the tins requires quite a lot of elbow grease. This then pulls the paper on the side giving you 2 unevenly shaped elipses of sponge rather than 2 equal circles. Frankly with one layer needing remaking, the remaining layer had to do and I decided to patch and mend even though it was non circular. My tip: Just line the bottom of the tin with baking parchment and flour and butter the sides.
What else? Well one of the things I love about rhubarb is that tart sweet flavour. That is what I wanted from this – a combination of sweet meringue, tart rhubarb and creamy vanillary custard. Unfortunately the sugar recommended by my base recipe and the intermediate meringue layer which dissolved into the compote, over-sweetened the rhubarb taking away alot of its unique flavour. I have taken the sugar content down in the recipe but I would recommend you adjust to personal taste.
The other thing with rhubarb is its colour. In our mind it is pink, but the inner flesh is really mostly green and when turned into a compote it reads more green than pink – and a slightly anaemic green at that. The solution is, I am afraid, pink food colouring to bring the colour back to the pink you want. Take care to add a bit at a time to get the colour you want.
The very last adaptation was borne of time pressure. Creme diplomate involves making creme patissiere combined with gelatine, allowing it to cool and then folding in whipped cream. At 11 pm that was simply not going to happen so I just stuck with Creme Pat and frankly that was nicer and much more custardy than the creme diplomate would have been, plus it supported the top sponge layer better.
This is definitely a cake I will be doing again, but not this year even though there is still a pile of rhubarb to get through and more growing by the day. I need to scroll through those 1639 recipes on chefcoch.de for more ideas.
For the sponge
- 4 medium eggs
- 125g unsalted butter softened
- 130g plain flour
- 125g caster sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 tbsp flaked almonds
For the Rhubarb Compote
- 600g rhubarb
- 50g sugar (use half first and then taste)
- 100ml water
- 40g cornflour
- Pink or red food colouring
For the Creme Patissiere
- 375 ml full fat milk
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 3 medium egg yolks
- 70g caster Sugar
- 30g Cornflour
- 5g gelatine granules
For the Italian Meringue
- 2 egg whites
- 100g caster sugar
- 50ml water
- two 9″ spring form tins
- baking parchment
- piping bag
- star shaped piping tube
- cooks blow torch
- sugar thermometer
This cake is assembled from the constituent parts using one of the 9″ spring form tin sides as a mould, set in the fridge overnight and then finished with the meringue the next day.
Make the Sponge
- pre heat the oven to 170C / 150 C Fan
- grease the sides of your baking tins and dust with flour
- line the bottom of each baking tin with baking parchment
- sift the flour and baking powder together
- beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy
- add the vanilla essence
- mix in the eggs one at a time adding a spoonful of flour each time to stop the mixture splitting
- fold in the remaining flour
- split the mixture in half and spread evenly on the bottom of each tin
- sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top of the mixture of one of the tins, gently pressing it into the mixture
- bake in the oven for 30 minutes
- allow to cool in the tin
Getting ready to assemble the cake
- take the sponge layers out of the tins and peel off the paper
- clean one of the spring form tins
- place the cake with the almonds on a flat plate
- place the outside ring of the tin around the cake
Make the Rhubarb Compote
- chop the rhubarb into small pieces
- place in a pan with half the sugar and water
- bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until the fruit has softened
- taste and add sugar to suit your personal taste
- add food colouring until you get a deep pink colour to the compote (how much depends on the strength of your food colouring)
- add small amount of hot water to the cornflour and mix to a smooth paste
- pour into the compote and whisk to keep the compote smooth
- bring the compote back up to the boil stirring all the time and simmer gently for a few minutes until the mixture is thick and gloopy
- pour the mixture on top of the sponge and smoothe
Make the Creme Patissiere and finish the assembly
- separate the eggs and set to one side
- add the vanilla essence to the milk and bring it to the boil
- set aside to cool for 5 minutes
- add the sugar and cornflour to the egg yolks and hand whisk until lightening in colour
- add a small amount of milk to the egg mixture and whisk in and repeat
- pour the egg mixture back into the milk
- add in the gelatine granules
- bring back to the boil for 2 minutes whisking all the time to stop lumps forming.
- the mixture will be gloopy and burp rather than boil
- take off the heat and press through a sieve
- spread the creme pat on top of the rhubarb compote and smoothe
- add the second sponge cake to the top
- put the whole cake into the fridge to set
Make the Italian Meringue and finish the cake
The reason for using Italian meringue on the top is because the process cooks the egg whites making them safe to eat. To make this meringue you do need a thermometer. Don’t be tempted to make normal meringue as you can’t cook it properly. If you can’t make Italian meringue, dust the top of the cake with icing sugar or pipe a buttercream of some sort onto the top.
The blow torch makes creating an attractive colour on the meringue easy. You can do it with a grill if necessary but watch it like a hawk.
- put the egg white in a bowl (preferably metal) in a stand mixer with any splash guard removed
- put the water and sugar in a saucepan
- bring to the boil (but do not stir at all) checking the temperature
- when the temperature hits 110C start whisking your egg whites
- when the temperature hits 118C take your sugar syrup off the heat
- check your egg whites are very stiff and dry (they should be)
- gently pour the sugar onto the egg whites with the whisk still going
- carry on whisking until the mixture has gone back to room temperature
- put into a piping bag with a star shaped piping tube
To finish the cake
- take the cake out of the fridge and place the cake on a cake stand
- remove the spring form side from the cake – you may need to slide a sharp knife around the edge
- pipe the meringue on top of the cake being careful to keep the finish even – a carousel helps with this
- brown the meringue with a blow torch
Your cake is now ready to serve!