We’ve reached peak rhubarb season, which means rhubarb desserts are everywhere. And when your blog has the word “rhubarb” in its title, you better bring the goods, right? Every year I try to up the ante with something unexpected but also delicious. Whether I am successful or not is entirely up to you but it’s always a fun exercise in creativity. Last year, I brought you this fun take on a classic strawberry rhubarb pie and this year I give you this blushing Rhubarb Chiffon Cake with Pét-Nat Glaze. I don’t like to pick favorites so I won’t. But I will say I am tickled pink by this year’s entry.
So what are we looking at here? This is a classic chiffon cake infused with rhubarb juice and a hint of lemon. The cake is coated in a simple Pét-Nat glaze and topped with whipped cream rosettes and bourbon-soaked cherries. If you’re getting a retro vibe from this cake that’s no accident. I wanted this cake to evoke a 50s diner aesthetic because the chiffon cake rose to prominence during the 40s and 50s.
The chiffon cake was developed by a Californian man named Harry Baker – yes, really. He was an insurance salesman turned caterer, who kept the cake recipe close to his chest for 20 years. He sold the original recipe to General Mills in the 1940s. The company included it in its marketing materials, which eventually culminated in a pamphlet released by Betty Crocker in 1948. The pamphlet contained the 14 variations on the original recipe under the name “chiffon cake”. From there, the popularity of the cake skyrocketed.
But what is chiffon cake? Chiffon cake is a light and airy cake that borrows methods from conventional cakes and sponge cakes. Essentially, you make a cake batter using either baking soda or powder or both and you fold in whipped egg whites to further lift the cake. This differs from an Angel food cake because it uses oil and differs from a yellow cake because it makes use of separated eggs.
The most common version of chiffon cake is lemon. Here I swapped the lemon juice for juice extracted from simmered rhubarb. I must confess the color is not 100% natural. I gave the pink a little boost with the tiniest amount of color gel. It is completely optional, by the way. So if you’re less than enthused about artificial colors give it a miss. Your cake will still taste great, the color will just be a little more muted.
To make this cake, coarsely chop a pound of rhubarb. Add sugar, vanilla bean paste, and lemon juice. Let everything simmer and get happy. Once the rhubarb has broken down, extract the juice from the pulp. We’re going to use the juice for the cake, but please, don’t get rid of that pulp. It is magic on pancakes and tea biscuits.
Now, let’s tackle the batter. And that starts with a touch of tedium. Separate six eggs. Let both the whites and the yolks come up to room temperature. I find eggs are easier to separate when they are cold but behave better in baking when they are at ambient temperature. You have the time anyway, the rhubarb juice needs to cool completely.
Once everything is at its optimal temperature, whisk the dry ingredients together. Take the yolks and add the rhubarb juice, neutral oil, and a little milk. I added lemon zest as well for a floral note but it is optional. This is also where you would add some extra color if you want to. Beat the wet ingredients together. Keep the wet and dry ingredients separate until just before baking.
Now let’s move on to the whites. Add a little cream of tartar to help stabilize the whites. Whip the whites until stiff peaks form. And once the whites are good to go, now you can combine the dry with the wet ingredients to form a basic cake batter. Fold the whipped whites into the batter and pour it into an ungreased tube pan and bake for 45 minutes in a 350°F oven.
Yes, I did say “ungreased” tube pan. Does that make you nervous? It’s okay if it does. An ungreased cake pan typically spells disaster but not where chiffon and angel food cakes are concerned it’s downright necessary. Because of their delicate structure, it’s better to cool chiffon cakes upside down so they don’t collapse under their own weight. If you invert a greased tube pan, the cake is far more likely to slip out. But an ungreased pan, not a chance. Once the cake is completely cool, run a knife along the edges and give the pan a short, sharp knock on the counter. The cake should release nicely.
Now it’s time for the finishing touches. Sift some powdered sugar into a bowl and add some pet-nat. I added 3 tablespoons to one cup of sugar to reach the consistency you see in the photos. If you want a thicker glaze, reduce the amount of wine you use. I wouldn’t go with a glaze much thinner than this, though. The glaze is liable to soak directly into the cake. Leave the glaze to set for 30 minutes.
Once the glaze has set, pipe some whipped cream rosettes on top of the cake and finish with bourbon-soaked cherries, and your masterpiece is done. I realize there is a fair amount of waiting and start-stop energy to this recipe, which can be frustrating. But the finished product is well worth the patience. And that’s everything you need to know about this Rhubarb Chiffon Cake with Pét-Nat Glaze and Bourbon-Soaked Cherries. A blushing beauty that is as delicious as it is beautiful!
Rhubarb Chiffon Cake with Pét-Nat Glaze
- 1 tube pan
- 1 hand or stand mixer
Rhubarb Chiffon Cake
- 454g (1lb) rhubarb coarsely chopped
- 1 ⅓ cup sugar divided
- ¼ cup water
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ cup canola oil
- ¼ cup milk
- 2 tbsp lemon zest
- ⅛ tsp pink color gel optional
- ½ tsp cream of tartar
- 1 cup powdered sugar sifted
- 3 tbsp pét-nat
- ½ cup unsweetened whipped cream
- 8-10 bourbon-soaked cherries
For the Cake
- Place the rhubarb, ⅓ of a cup of the sugar, the water, lemon juice, and vanilla bean paste in a skillet. Stir to combine and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let cook for 15 minutes or until the rhubarb begins to fall apart.454g (1lb) rhubarb, 1 ⅓ cup sugar, ¼ cup water, 1 lemon, 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- Pour the rhubarb into a fine mesh strainer suspended over a bowl. Press the rhubarb with the back of a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible. You should have about ¾ of a cup. ** Set aside to cool.
- Separate the egg yolks from the whites into two bowls. Leave them to come up to room temperature.6 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Place the flour, the remaining sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp baking soda, 1 ⅓ cup sugar
- Add the cooled rhubarb juice to the egg yolks and add the oil, milk, lemon zest, and pink color gel if using. Whisk to combine and set aside as well.½ cup canola oil, ¼ cup milk, 2 tbsp lemon zest, ⅛ tsp pink color gel
- Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites and, using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk until stiff peaks form.½ tsp cream of tartar
- Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the yolk mixture. Stir until a cake batter forms. Add the egg whites to the batter in thirds, gently folding each addition in until no streaks remain.
- Pour the batter into an ungreased tube pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted into the center of the cake and removed cleanly. Take the cake out of the oven and invert it onto a cooling rack. Leave it to cool completely upside down in the pan. Run a butter knife along the edges of the cake and give the pan a good sharp knock on the counter. The cake should release.
For the Pét-Nat Glaze
- Sift the sugar into a bowl. Add the pét-nat and whisk until smooth. Pour the glaze over the cake and let set for 30 minutes.1 cup powdered sugar, 3 tbsp pét-nat
- Pipe the whipped cream on top of the cake in rosettes and stud each with a bourbon-soaked cherry. Serve immediately.½ cup unsweetened whipped cream, 8-10 bourbon-soaked cherries