Do you say pee-can or puh-kahn?
Growing up in the Midwest, it was always the latter. Then, I moved to Georgia and started working at a few farmers markets. I found myself settling into a subtle Southern drawl (to this day, I still greet most folks with a cheerful “hi, y’all”). With the territory, and probably also thanks to the peach and pecan farmers down the way, I started saying “pee-can”. I still say it this way. It’s a hard habit to shake.
The pecans I used in this recipe, like the pronunciation, are all the way from Georgia. I bought a huge bag at the farmers market last year and squirreled them away in my freezer. I couldn’t bear to part with them so, like the squid ink, these nuts made the 2,600-mile trip across the country with us.
Its appearance was always so fleeting, and I never spotted it at farmers markets in Atlanta. Even if I had seen it, I was honestly a little terrified to cook with it. I had heard it was hard to manage — bitter, tart and tough to the point of requiring another fruit (usually strawberries, which arrive a bit later in the season) to all but mask its flavor entirely.
Rhubarb is bountiful in the PNW. Not the first harbinger of spring, but very nearly, it has appeared in abundance at markets here for the last few weeks. The variety I picked up is an older heirloom with stalks that remain almost entirely green, versus the bright pinky-red skin that most attribute to rhubarb. It does have a tart flavor, but more akin to a Granny Smith apple than sucking on a lemon. The flesh has a similar juicy, crisp bite to an apple, too, with just a hint of citrus at the finish.
When I gave Craig the first bite of this cake he said, “I always did like rhubarb.” He did?! We have known each other since childhood, have been dating and nearly attached at the hip for eight years, and our wedding date is (finally) fast approaching … yet here we are, still learning about one another. I did not know, until this cake came out of the oven, that he liked rhubarb. And now I want to make all the things with rhubarb. For him.
A few weeks ago, we enjoyed a weekend getaway to Orcas Island. On the drive home, Craig pulled up on his phone a list of fun and interesting questions to pass the time. Questions like, If you could bring back one person from the past, who would it be? and What person do you never want to see naked? We laughed and discussed, agreed and disagreed. We answered both quickly and had to sit and ponder our responses. Even after all this time together, there are still things we say and do that surprise each other. (Like calling ahead to the bed and breakfast on the island to make sure they could accommodate my dietary needs. I was surprised with a gluten-free waffle breakfast on our last morning. And me beating him, repeatedly, while playing a new-to-me card game on the ferry ride home.)
Two weeks ago, cherries debuted at the farmers market. Red and shiny, sweet and juicy. Don’t eat the whole bag! the farmer told me joyfully. It’s going to be hard, she admitted, laughing. They’re just so good and sweet. I waited until I got home and had the cherries for this recipe pitted and halved before taking a bite. My knees went a bit weak. Whoa, I exclaimed, rushing to hand Craig a cherry. It’s a good thing we both waited until this cake was in the oven, or there would have been no cherries left.
This cake is so good. Buttery, sugary, and tinged with vanilla. Like any good cake should be. I layered the fruit and crumble on top so you get a little taste of everything with every bite. It would be equally as good with the fruit mixed in, if you’d rather go that route. (You just may need to adjust baking time.)
As someone who both eats gluten on a regular basis and uses his palate professionally, Craig is my best and most important taste tester. When I gave him the first bite, he said without hesitation, Wow. I think I like the cake the best. As someone who generally dislikes dessert and cake, that really is saying something.
This recipe makes a lot of cake. It’s meant to be shared. Celebrate the season, and plan it for a party. Or a get-together. Or a Tuesday. Whatever.
This cake is a melding of the seasons. The first of spring and the first of summer. (Is it still spring? Late spring? Early summer? Sprummer?) A toast to still learning, always, and a love that is growing and changing.
People have often asked me whether what I know about love has spoiled it for me. And I just simply say, ‘Hardly.’ You can know every single ingredient in a piece of chocolate cake, and then when you sit down and eat that cake, you can still feel that joy.
— Helen Fisher
Gluten-Free Cake with Cherries, Rhubarb and a Crunchy Pecan Crumble Topping
Notes: For the cake base, you can substitute 225 grams of a gluten-free baking mix (I recommend Namaste Foods Perfect Flour Blend or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1:1 Baking Flour). If you are not gluten-free, use 225 grams of cake flour. (This measurement is about 2 1/3 cups of flour, but I highly recommend measuring by weight instead of using measuring cups.)
For the cake:
60 grams millet flour
30 grams sorghum flour
70 grams cornstarch
40 grams potato starch
25 grams tapioca starch
1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if you’re using a baking mix that already contains gum)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
170 grams of organic raw sugar/evaporated cane juice
226 grams organic butter (2 sticks), room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the fruit topping:
2 cups cherries, pitted and cut in half
1½ cups thinly sliced rhubarb stalk
For the pecan crumble topping:
1 cup chopped raw pecans
¼ cup gluten-free all purpose flour
¼ cup raw sugar
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
Prep your toppings: Remove any stems from the cherries and pit them using a cherry pitter or a straw inserted from the top (stem end), pushing the put out through the bottom. (Check out this Huff Post article for a lot of cool ways to remove cherry pits. Having tried a lot of these options, though, I highly recommend buying a cherry pitter to save yourself time and reduce mess and stress.) Once the pits are removed, slice the cherries in half. Wash your cutting board immediately to avoid staining.
Thinly slice the rhubarb about ¼-inch thick. Mix together and set aside with the cherries.
Whisk together the chopped pecans, flour, sugar and spices for the crumble topping. Add the butter and rub together using your fingers until everything is mixed together and crumbly. Set aside.
Make the cake: Lightly grease the bottom of a glass 9-inch x 12-inch baking dish. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom and extending over 2 sides of the dish. Grease the top of the parchment, too. Set aside and preheat your oven to 350°.
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on medium speed for about five minutes until the mixture has lightened in color and is fluffy. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides as necessary.
While the butter and sugar are creaming, whisk together the flours, starches, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt until well mixed and aerated. (You can use a flour sifter or food processor to do this, too.)
When the butter-sugar mixture is fluffy, add the flour slowly in three additions, allowing each addition to mix in before adding more flour. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to make sure everything is mixed together. Don’t over-mix or you’ll deflate the batter. Add the milk and vanilla and mix just until combined.
Bake the cake: Pour the batter into your prepared pan and use a lightly greased silicone spoonula to spread the batter evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes. Carefully sprinkle the fruit over the top of the cake and then sprinkle on the crumble topping. Bake for another 15 minutes. Check to see if the cake is done. It should be golden brown around the edges, and a toothpick inserted should come out clean. If necessary, bake for another 3-5 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully grasping the edge of the parchment paper, lift the cake from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.
Slice and enjoy! This cake is good on its own, or topped with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream.