Spring is finally here in a solid way, and I think that means that all us food-folk deserve a drink for surviving the slim pickings of wintery produce. I think it also means we all deserve cake. Now we could just drink while eating cake, because that’s great fun. Or. Or! We can put booze in our cake AND drink while eating it. Doesn’t that sound even better? I think it does, because I make responsible life choices, so that’s what I’m going to do. And I’ll throw some fruit in there too. That way it’s healthy!
This cake has three parts, four layers of cake magic once everything’s done with the topping. The cake itself gets assembled from the top down, and then it’ll be flipped on its head and what you put on the bottom of the pan will be on the top. Make sense? Great. Now let’s talk strawberries and rhubarb. I don’t think there’s a more classic spring fruit duo when it comes to cakes and pies. Get yourself a pile of both, because the are lovely. Clean everything off and cut it down to size. Hull and thinly slice the strawberries, and slice the rhubarb on a diagonal into 1/2″ pieces.
A simple crumble is next, which will end up being on the very bottom of the finished cake. Sort of like a shortbread-crumble crust for the soft cake body. Mix 1/2 cup of flour, 1/4 c. of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a small bowl. Melt half a stick of butter and pour it into the dry ingredients. Mix until combined and well, crumbly looking.
Butter a 9-inch round cake pan. Dot the pan with half a stick of butter broken into pieces. In a separate bowl, combine the rhubarb and strawberries with 1/2 cup of sugar and let stand for a few minutes to macerate. Spread the delicious sugary fruit over the butter bits in an even layer.
Now the cake batter! This is a very simple sour cream cake and pretty hard to screw up, which I don’t think anyone will argue with. In a side bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Throw a cup of sugar and a stick of butter into a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment and beat until fluffy and light. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add heaping 1/2 teaspoon of orange zest, a tablespoon of fresh orange juice, and a tablespoon (or so…) of bourbon.
Mix to incorporate, and with the mixer running add two eggs, one at a time. Once the mixture has come together, scrape down the sides of the bowl and start with the dries and wet. Alternately add the two in five installments, beginning and ending with flour. Confusing? Five installments of what now? Insert tab 3A into slot 47G and turn counterclockwise? Deep breaths, I’ll break it down: turn the mixer on low, add a bit of flour, bit of sour cream, flour, sour cream, flour. Trust me, baking doesn’t have to be as hard as some people think it is.
Once the batter is smooth and there are no clumps or pockets of unmixed stuff, spread it evenly over the fruit mixture in the cake pan. Scatter the shortbread crumble over the cake batter and into a 350 degree oven it goes. If your pan seems very full, as mine most certainly was, bake the cake on top of a sheet tray to catch any batter overflow. The bottom of your oven will thank you.
Bake for 60-70 minutes, rotating the pan/tray once halfway through, or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from hot oven of doom and let the cake sit in the pan for ten minutes. Try to unmold it right away and there will be hot fruity lava everywhere. Leave it too long and the sugar can set too much and the cake could stick. Sad day in either scenario. Ten minutes and a knife around the edge of the pan to ensure complete separation worked fine for me. Put a plate over top of the cake, flip the whole thing over, and gently lift the pan away from the cake.
While the cake cools completely, work on the whipped cream topping. The trick here is that if you make a plain old whipped cream, it will eventually lose its air and melt back into a wet pathetic puddle on top of your lovely cake. Not on my watch! A little bakery trick is to make a stabilized whipped cream, which is the sort they use to frost full layer cakes and have them sitting on display all day without disintegrating. There are loads of different ways to achieve this, but the most convenient is to add a bit of cornstarch for every cup of cream that you plan to whip. So, in a clean and cool mixer bowl with a whisk attachment, combine a cup and a half of heavy cream, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon of bourbon. Sieve in 1/4 cup of powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Whisk on high until you reach firm peaks. Fold in 1/2 cup of COOLED toasted walnut bits. Very important that the nuts are entirely cooled by the time they hit the cream, otherwise they’ll melt the whole thing.
Cover the cake in cream, add some pretty garnish-y bits, and call it a delicious day! Pour yourself a touch more bourbon and sit down for a piece. Good work, you lot.
STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE WITH WALNUT-BOURBON CREAM
recipe adapted from Martha Stewart
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. sugar
4 Tbs. butter, melted
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
6 ounces rhubarb, cut on the bias into 1/2″ pieces
10 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, divided
1 c. sugar
1 heaping tsp. orange zest, plus 1 Tbs. fresh orange juice
2 Tbs. bourbon
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp ground ginger
pinch of cinnamon
1 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 Tbs. bourbon
1/2 finely chopped toasted walnuts
extra nuts and a strawberry to make it pretty