This recipe for Rhubarb Cake is a favorite family recipe from a good friend. Buttermilk makes it moist and rhubarb is delicious in each bite. If you are looking for recipes that use rhubarb, give this cake a try!
This recipe for Rhubarb Cake is a favorite family recipe from a good friend. Buttermilk makes it moist and rhubarb is delicious in each bite.
When spring peeps its head in after the chill of winter, there is nothing more exciting for me than walking into the market and seeing gorgeous crimson stalks of rhubarb among the usual produce.
In many places around the country, encountering rhubarb can be rare, but luckily for me, I often see them in our markets outside of the normal spring/summer rhubarb season. And when I do, I always pick up several stalks. To me, it signals the seasons of warmth and summer evenings. It reminds me of outdoor concerts and picnics.
The first time I fell in love with rhubarb, I was enjoying one of the most memorable summers of my life in Chicago. I’ve mentioned before how I spent some time there as a grad student, and during the summer, my favorite place was Ravinia, one of the best outdoor venues for music and the performing arts in the country, just outside downtown Chicago.
Tucked away in the cozy wooded North Shore suburbs, is the open air stage that is home to the historic Ravinia Festival. Locals and visitors alike enjoy a summer season of fantastic music at the open air theater. I have many memories of Ravinia – it was, after all, where my hubby and I had our first date, watching the Cowboy Junkies. Nearly every summer weekend, I attended performances there with friends. We enjoyed the entertainment under the stars, on a blanket topped with food and wine.
Indeed, the art of the picnic is taken very seriously by Ravinia-goers. You will often see quite the range of picnic-fare, from elegant low tables decked with cloth napkins and wine glasses, to family sized Coleman coolers with wheels. Walking amongst the blankets is like wandering around a culinary bazaar. You can find trays of cheeses and fruit, composed salads, simple sandwiches with chips and soda, and of course, desserts.
One summer evening, I was there with my friend Liz, and she pulled out this magnificent cake out of our cooler. It was Rhubarb Cake, her grandmother’s recipe and a family favorite. I watched with interest as she cut off a big square and deftly added a dollop of whipped cream – I had never had rhubarb cake before! I understood in an instant why it was her family’s favorite cake. The moist cake studded with tangy rhubarb and the swirl of cream is pure heaven. It is summer personified.
These days, I instantly associate rhubarb with Ravinia. To me, they go hand in hand with summer. It’s been many years since that summer of good food, wine and music, but having a slice of this cake instantly takes me back. If you live in the Chicagoland area, go, for me, to Ravinia. And even if you don’t, please make this cake. The symphony of flavors is the next best thing.
About This Rhubarb Cake
This recipe for Rhubarb Cake features a generous portion of chopped rhubarb. The cake itself, which uses buttermilk, is perfectly moist. Prepare it easily in a 9×13 cake pan and serve it with fresh whipped cream for a decadent summer treat.
Note: This post first appeared April 20, 2010; the recipe has been updated from the archives with improved kitchen notes and recipe annotation. I hope you enjoy this favorite from my kitchen.
Wondering What Else to Make with Rhubarb? Try These Recipes!
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp (Vegan-Friendly)
Rhubarb Mint Margarita
Rhubarb-Wine BBQ Sauce
Blueberry Rhubarb Cobbler
For the Rhubarb Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup buttermilk or substitute 1 cup whole milk with 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 2 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb about 4-5 stalks, depending on size; don’t skimp
- cinnamon sugar 1 tablespoon granulated sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, combined
For the Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13 cake pan with butter and set aside.
- Sift or whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add vanilla and egg, and mix well. While the mixer runs, alternately stir in buttermilk and flour mixture in batches, ending with the flour mixture, until the batter is just combined. Add rhubarb and stir.
- Spread the batter into the prepared 9×13 inch cake pan. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 35 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- While the cake bakes, make the whipped cream. In a cold mixer bowl (I like to put my mixer bowl and whisk in the freezer beforehand), whisk the heavy cream until soft peaks form, and gradually add in the sugar and vanilla. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- When the cake is baked, allow to cool on a wire rack. The cake is delicious warm or at room temperature. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
I have heard about rhubarb pie all my life but never tried it. This actually sounds pretty good so I am going try and find some rhubarb and try this recipe.
This cake sounds awesome, I love tart and tangy rhubarb.
I love rhubarb, and grew up eating my mom’s rhubarb pies. I made this cake and it is lovely, moist with just the right amount of tang. My family loved it!
I love the history of the recipe. That means a lot to me. Time tested and time loved. When there is buttermilk in the recipe or sour cream or yogurt, I automatically feel assured that it’s moist and has a special underlying tang. Thank you for sharing.
The rhubarb in my garden isn’t ready yet, so I’ve had to buy mine at the store so far. Now I’m feeling the need to pick more up, so I can make this cake. Beautiful!
Every year I am reminded that I really should plant some rhubarb so I can just grow my own! How lucky that you will have a crop coming soon…but thank goodness for the grocery store, right? I hope you do make it – it has a special place in my heart :)
I’ve had this recipe bookmarked since you posted it back in April. This past weekend, I pulled yet another batch of rhubarb from my plant (it grows for months and months here in Southern California) and finally got around to making this. Oh.my.goodness!! Ultra fluffy and moist and tangy…heavenly!
hello! i made this delicious cake last weekend for my friends and family. Everybody love it! Would like to take an opportunity to say thank you for sharing your rhubarb cake recipe. I can’t wait to try your recent rhubarb scones. will make it one of these days. thanks again and more power :)
I just LOVE rhubarb cake! I loved it SOOOOO much, that I had it for my birthday cake! :)
Have been seeing rhubarb all this while in the market and trying to control myself not to go pick them because of this stupid move which won’t let me do any of cooking. This post is NOT helping at all with it! LOVE love the post and the recipe. Bookmarking for the day when I’ll be all settled in my new home and then I can cook and bake :-)
Hey Liren, your writing is always so interesting, enchanting I must say. Ooh, and I’ve never seen a rhubarb cake, just pie. It looks almost like a moist pudding of cake. I can see just from the photos why your friend’s family loved it. I’m going to check for rhubarb next time I’m at the farmer’s market…
Aw, Stella, thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoy my writing! The cake is SOOO moist, it is definitely like a pudding cake. Do make it, you’ll love it!!
I’ve been longing to cook with Rhubarb–never done it. But I did have a rhubarb dessert at Spork in SF and it was surprisingly nice and sweet. Have you made pie before? I saw it on Food Network and my curiosity was piqued. Lovely photos!
Can’t wait to try this one out too!! Coincidentally, I just read in the Southwest Airlines magazine about the wonderful properties they are discovering about Rhubarb, especially in regards to cancer prevention!!
Mdivani, yes, rhubarb is so good for you, especially when baked with a lot of sugar! LOL. Seriously though, I have been hearing more and more about rhubarb’s qualities, so we should use it more!
Rhubarb is so wonderful to bake with, it’s a pity it’s not readily available year round. Though I love rhubarb in pies, and I do make other kinds of pies, I have yet to make a rhubarb pie (we have an excellent bakery near us that makes a killer strawberry rhubarb pie, and my husband refuses to stray), BUT, I do make a rhubarb crisp! I hope you try it!
I’ve only ever had rhubarb in pies.. like strawberry-rhubarb.. maybe even an apple-rhubarb, but never in a cake! My sister’s mother-in-law was so kind to give me some beautiful stalks last year and they’re currently very lonely in my freezer.
All of a sudden I’m remember strange things like Strawberry Shortcake dolls… I don’t know why but maybe because of the colour of the rhubarb you bought. That is some gorgeous colour.
Now I can find reason to use the lonely ones in the freezer. Thanks Liren!
Time to dig in the freezer, Jenn, and defrost those stalks (lucky you to have your own rhubarb supplier!)…you’ve got to make the cake! Yes, I think the very very first time I had rhubarb was in a pie with strawberry. Ah, classic combination. But I love how the rhubarb is the star of this show in this cake. And now I’m laughing about the Strawberry Shortcake dolls. LOVED them growing up…funny to think they’re still around (my daughter has a Strawberry Shortcake coloring book!). Did they have a Rhubarb doll? LOL.
Yeah for Rhubarb…love the stuff and I will definitely try your cake
Hi Norma! Rhubarb definitely rocks! Let me know if you do try the cake – I know you’ll love it :)
Hi Liren :) I LOVE rhubarb. Well….actually, I LOVE the idea of rhubarb LOL I have never seen it in the flesh, fresh, frozen, canned, however it comes. I read novels, kiddy stories, that mention it, I read cookbook authors who wax lyrical about it. I’ve been having a low grade rhubarb fever for about 2 decades now, dreaming of spoonsful of pig bum pudding and rhubarb crumble LOLOL
That cake looks so, so, soooooooo good! And I really enjoyed that heartwarming glimpse of a more youthful Liren :) You seem to have lived a wonderful life!
My rhubarb fever just rose 2 degrees *sigh*
Denise, I’ve got to find some way to get you some rhubarb. Dry ice and a shipment of frozen rhubarb? Hmm. You would fall. in. love. with rhubarb if you tried this cake. Really.
And I’m glad you enjoy listening to me go on and on about my younger days, lol. I’ve had my share of sad moments in life, but I remember all the good ones very vividly, and I’m also one of those hopeless romantics that get extremely nostalgic. I’m sure you could tell by now that I’m quite the sap. This whole blog will be leaking sappy stories before the end of the year, I’m afraid :)
ooh la la, this is the 2nd blog i found today that posted about rhubarb. i have yet to try this in a dessert! it’s just so strange that rhubarb looks so much like celery, yet it’s great for desserts… go figure!
Hi, Krissy! Oh really?? Well, rhubarb is definitely in the beginning of its season, so I guess we’ll see more! It really is such an odd plant. Fruit or vegetable? It is just so perfect in desserts…and probably even with entrees, too! Hmm…I am thinking of another application…
Having such great memories attached to a dish makes it taste even better! The first time I tasted rhubarb was when we moved to the Midwest and now I have it growing in the garden. Thanks for sharing your friend’s family recipe – it’ll be a treat to make it!
Tracey, you have grow rhubarb too??? Oh my, I really need to get moving with some gardening! Please let me know when you harvest – hope you do try the cake – it’s a native Minnesotan recipe, btw!
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never had rhubarb. This looks so good! But, alas, I am not a baker. Is it “non-baker” friendly? It just looks like a perfect recipe to try rhubarb for the first time. Your description of it was so touching that it makes me want it. Nice work… that’s what good writing does. Thank you!
Don’t be ashamed – I was well into my adult years before I tried rhubarb myself. It’s SO good. And you don’t have to be a baker to make this -it’s the easiest cake recipe on the planet. Try it!!! You can’t mess it up. And thank you for your kind, kind words about my writing. That makes me smile :)
oh wow my Dad would go crazy for this cake
Hi Rebecca! Is your dad a rhubarb fan? He would adore this cake. It doesn’t last long at all in our house!
This cake looks delicious and moist. I actually don’t think I’ve ever had rhubarb before but I may just try this recipe. I think I’d like it with whipped cream, too. I’m a huge fan of whipped cream – in fact, I usually don’t need the underlying dessert, just the whipped cream. :)
LOL, I am SO with you on the whipped cream. But really, try the cake – it makes the whipped cream even better :)
We have four rhubarb plants, they are not ready yet, but soon! I am stumbling this cake-I can’t wait to try it. Gorgeous photos too!
You HAVE rhubarb plants!?! Oh, envy! Are they hard to grow? Hmmm. I really should start a food garden. I hope you do try it and am crossing my fingers you have an excellent harvest this season!
how do you of all people not have rhubarb plants? Up here it grows like a weed. The worse you treat it, the better it grows. Out your way I’m guessing it’ll need a fair amount of shade. it also takes a few years to establish.
You’re right. You’re *so* right, Liz! Why do I NOT have a rhubarb plant? Do they really grow like weeds? Okay, thank you — the next time I’m near the nursery I will have to stop and see if they have any. *Hugs* thanks for the motivation!