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Rhubarb & coconut cake

November 11, 2012

Fine, this cake is not going to win any beauty awards, but think of it this way: it will bowl you over ever more when you try some, and it’s all amazing and soft, with berry-flavour-kissed butteriness, and all of a sudden you almost feel apologetic that you were so shallow about judging it. The only people who could not like this cake are people who hate the texture of sweetened moist desiccated coconut (almost like a bounty bar texture, but not the flavour). That said, normally I’m one of these haters, so what does that say?

This cake owes its genius to Julie Le Clerc, from one of my much-beloved cookbooks, Made by Hand. In my opinion she’s New Zealand’s Queen of Cakes, especially unexpectedly delicious ones that could even be passed off as good for you (such as these chocolate prune cakes). This is a very adapted version of her whole orange poppy seed cakes from the same book. If you’ve ever eaten or made a cake with whole oranges that have been boiled for an hour and pureed throughout, you’re in a special club that know how amazingly moist and soft and utterly unforgettable such cakes are. However, I have a weird dislike of letting things simmer, mostly undisturbed, for any time longer than about 15 minutes. I either want to be in the kitchen or I don’t. Anyway, if you too suffer from this unfortunate weirdness, this cake delivers the same awesomeness as whole-orange cakes, but with more active time, no puree-r, and without any bitterness from the orange pith.

This cake is also secretly gluten free, dairy free, and contains no extra oil. You could probably use plenty of other fruits (chopped cored apples/pears/quinces, mango) in place of rhubarb, or ground almonds or hazelnuts in place of the desiccated coconut. As long as the fruit won’t liquefy too much when cooked in a little sugar, you’ll be fine – and just be aware that I used quite a bit more sugar with rhubarb than you would with sweeter fruits.

Rhubarb & coconut cake

makes one thin 8″ cake

Rhubarb goop

  • about 3c chopped (about 1cm long) deep red rhubarb
  • about 1/2c sugar
  • optional: lemongrass top, tied into a knot & bashed, or lime zest/oil

Place sugar and lemongrass in a saucepan, pour rhubarb on top. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and uncover, letting simmer until the rhubarb falls apart. DO NOT be tempted to add water – the rhubarb will emit plenty of that on its own.

Prepare a sieve that sits over a bowl and pour the rhubarb in, letting the syrup* drain into the bowl. Pick out the lemongrass if you’ve used it. If using lime zest, add it now. The goop to use in the cake is the stuff still in the sieve (any leftover can be swirled through the cake (marbled) or used as a topping, or used in breakfasts.


  • heaping 1/2 c rhubarb goop
  • 3 small eggs, separated
  • 2/3 c raw caster sugar (regular is ok too), or 1/2 c if you don’t want your cake bordering on too-sweet
  • 1 1/2 c fine desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

optional: coconut cream for serving (it needs to be at room temp and shaken vigorously before you open the can/container)

Preheat oven to 200C/400F. Line the bottom and sides of a springform** cake tin with greased paper (seriously, this cake sticks) or Lynette’s baking sheets cut to size for re-use.

Mix everything except for the egg whites together until uniform.

In a medium-large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks (it’s ok if they form stiffer peaks, but don’t go overboard). Fold a third of the whites into the rhubarb mixture at a time until it’s just incorporated, then scrape into your prepared tin. If you want, you can swirl some leftover rhubarb goop in the top to make it pretty, or reserve it for dolloping later. Pop into your oven, then reduce the heat to 170C/340F. Let bake until the top is golden – check at 20 minutes. If a skewer inserted comes out clean (or with a crumb or two attached), it’s ready to sit on a rack to cool. Remove from tin once the cake is warm enough to touch.

To serve, dollop some leftover puree onto a slice of your cake and drizzle with coconut cream.

*Since the cake is so moist and sweet it doesn’t need any syruping (in my opinion…feel free to try it), you can reserve this for anything from cocktails to drizzling over pancakes or muesli.

**This is a very delicate, soft cake, and will likely fall apart if a significant part of it gets stuck to the pan. If you don’t have a springform cake tin, make this into cupcakes, or line your tin so that it’s completely paper-covered.

Currently Clickalicious

Smoked salmon mousse on rye toasts @ Food 52

Roasted carrot soup with citrus and cumin @ 5 and Spice

Crispy steamed pumpkin cakes @ Mummy, I Can Cook!

Globe artichokes & a vegetable medley stew @ The Indolent Cook

Foodie fave

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest book, Three Good Things On a Plate. It’s exactly what I needed – creative new formulas for delicious, simple, realistic meals to prepare and adapt and get excited about! I’ll be posting a review at some point but at the moment, suffice to say I am over the moon with it.

EDIT: I’ve submitted this to Sweet New Zealand, now that I have a bit of breathing time! Look forward to seeing what the wonderful kiwi food bloggers come up with this month, on The KitchenMaid.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2012 10:54 pm

    How yum! You should enter it in Sweet New Zealand, this month’s host is The Kitchen Maid, info here


  2. November 11, 2012 11:03 pm

    I think it looks quite nice actually, with the red and the white topping! I can’t make up my mind about dessicated coconut, but I am definitely a rhubarb fan.

  3. Celiac and Allergy Adventures permalink
    November 12, 2012 4:00 am

    I think it actually looks delicious! It sounds delicious, too.

  4. November 12, 2012 6:13 am

    Lemongrass! What a good idea. I love pureed fruit cakes (definitely worth the simmering time of oranges for me!). I would LOVE some rhubarb up here. It’s weird having a winter without it after years of living off rhubarb crumbles every winter. I imagine it is beautifully moist, and even good after a day or so.

  5. November 12, 2012 12:35 pm

    I disagree – I think this cake is beautiful! You can’t beat that rhubarb color – and coconut cake? I need to make this immediately!

  6. November 12, 2012 11:19 pm

    Leaf & Coeliac & Leah: Hehe, I’m glad someone appreciated my attempt! I promise it otherwise looks pretty woeful! Probably not helped by the fact that I burnt it.

    Christina: I saw a recipe from Bravetart for lemongrass poached rhubarb and thought – hell yes! It’s a shame you can’t get fresh rhubarb – maybe there might be somewhere that sells it frozen? If not, that would be a great idea…frozen rhubarb chunks to throw in all manner of things…You imagine right by the way – this stays soft and moist for…well, it has been one day, and I’m not sure how much longer it will last, but hey!

  7. November 13, 2012 11:13 am

    Bounty bar you say??? Your wonderful description had me sold! …. and to be fair, the photo too. It looks scrumptious! / Louisa

  8. November 30, 2012 7:33 am

    This looks delicious! And I have ALL those ingredients in the house – even chopped up rhubarb waiting in the freezer… perfect :)
    Visiting from The Kitchenmaid

  9. November 30, 2012 10:16 pm

    Wow! What an amazing combo!Never have thought of combining rhubarb & coconut before! Looks & sounds good! Just harvested the last rhubarb of the year & I can try out this recipe! Thanks for sharing! Have a lovely day! :)

  10. kirschplunder permalink
    June 8, 2013 12:11 am

    I’m absolutely amazed by that there’s no butter or oil in this?? As much as I don’t want it to be a healthy cake, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one without proper fat? Might just have to try it!

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