Rhubarb & coconut cake
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
- 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.
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.