Rhubarb baby cakes are little upside-down cakes featuring a rich almost-shortbread-like cake with a topping of tart rhubarb, sweet caramel and toasty pecans. The recipe is from Baking With Julia, pages 244-246, and can also be found on Erin’s blog, When in Doubt…Leave it at 350.
I was at first unable to find rhubarb in my local food markets, although it’s supposed to be in season in spring. I eventually found it in a large warehouse-like produce market, where I bought a two-pound bag of varied size rhubarb stalks that ranged in color from light green to pink to vibrant red. It required a lot of trimming, and I ended up with about a pound.
The first step in this recipe is making the topping which, since this is an upside-down cake, goes in the bottom of the pan. A combination of melted butter cooked with brown sugar, bourbon and pecans, the praline-like topping adds complexity to the cakes. I substituted Amaretto for the bourbon and doubled the amount of chopped pecans from two tablespoons to four. The Amaretto flavor was lost…maybe bourbon would have provided a more assertive taste. The caramel is spread in the bottom of the pans and then topped with slices of rhubarb. I used four-inch fluted paper baking cups in place of four-inch mini-cake pans.
Rich with butter, eggs, and creme fraiche, the cake batter mixes up easily along with sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and vanilla. The resulting batter is thick, almost as dense as a cookie dough, and it was a challenge to spread it over the arranged rhubarb without disturbing the pattern.
Out of the oven, the mini-cakes are quickly inverted onto a rack while still hot and the caramel still molten. One of them slipped and fell apart, providing a perfect opportunity for a taste test before serving for dessert. The cakes are very good…the butter cake is tender and moist with a light crust, the topping is sticky sweet balanced by the tart rhubarb and crunch of pecans, a delicious spring treat.