Last Updated on May 16, 2011 by Jennifer Pallian BSc, RD

Rhubarb cake is in my mom’s annual spring baking repertoire – essential, perhaps, because of the massive rhubarb plants she has cropping up in her yard. She also makes an annual giant batch of stewed rhubarb to serve on hot buttered toast, and yesterday she was describing a rhubarb puree that she dilutes with sparkling water, which (insert vodka) sounds lovely.

Rhubarb in the market makes spring official. It is the first in the parade of summer pie fruit, with the promise that strawberries, raspberries, peaches and blueberries will soon follow. After a long winter of root vegetables and starchy comfort food, tart rhubarb is a welcome freshness.

This is my mom’s rhubarb cake recipe. She calls it “Lunar Rhubarb Cake”, because the butter/brown sugar topping sinks into the batter making craters suggestive of the moon’s surface. I bet the moon’s surface doesn’t taste nearly this good…

Some like to sweeten rhubarb significantly. Some like to exaggerate the sour with lemon. I like my rhubarb slightly sweetened, but still puckersome. I think I just made a new word. I like it.


This rhubarb cake is based on a pretty basic cake recipe; sugar and butter beaten together, dry and wet ingredients beaten in alternately, rhubarb folded in. The topping sets it apart. It is not a struesel or a crumble – there is no flour or oats. Just butter, brown sugar, and a hint of cinnamon.

The result is a light, moist, delicious cake with a mottled, caramelized top and punctuated with soft pieces of tart rhubarb. I served mine with gingered whipped cream (sweetened, with very finely grated fresh ginger). Ginger and rhubarb are delightful together.

Free of whipped cream, rhubarb cake makes a lovely breakfast with hot tea (or I guess with the whipped cream, if you feel particularly decadent in the morning).


I made a few slight changes from my mom’s original recipe. I pretty much doubled the amount of rhubarb, because that is the best part of rhubarb cake, wouldn’t you agree? I reduced the sugar both in the cake and in the topping, just because I like my rhubarb’s tartness to shine. I also reduced the cinnamon to 1/2 tsp from 2 tsp, because I wanted it to be subtle rather than a predominant flavour. Basically, this cake is forgiving, so feel free to adjust as you see fit. As written below, however, I can pretty much guarantee it will knock your rhubarb-loving socks off.

Rhubarb Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb (approximately 3 medium stalks)
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the large bowl of a standing mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. With the mixer speed on low, beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 of the buttermilk, and repeat (ending with the flour mixture).

2. Toss rhubarb with 1 tablespoon of flour. Fold into cake batter. Spread into buttered 13 x 9″ baking dish. In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup butter with cinnamon and brown sugar. Sprinkle over top of cake. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until centre is set and springs back when lightly touched. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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