Welcome Home Rhubarb Crumb Cake

I have a problem bringing anything new into my apartment. (Actually, that goes for anyone too.) Say I buy a new shirt at Club Monaco. It will stay in its shopping bag until I have fully accepted that I purchased something, when I probably shouldn’t have spent the $79 in the first place, and hang it in the closet. This process might take a few days. Sometimes I get so used to the shopping bag just sitting there on the floor that it could be a week before I realize it isn't part of my living room’s d├ęcor scheme.
But sometimes when you bring something new into your house it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Like last week my appliances planned a revolt behind my back. First, my 15 year old toaster started to give off the smell of burning plastic with accompanying thick smoke. After climbing up the step ladder to disconnect the piercing smoke alarm I had to toss my smelly friend for good.
Meanwhile, the precarious health of the little TV in my bedroom (which is a big luxury considering the living room and its larger TV are on the other side of the bedroom wall) began a rapid decline. The first symptom was morphing Jay Leno into a cone-head—which kind of worked because his elongated head matched his elongated chin. Then it turned Pierce Brosnan into a double amputee (I’m not sure how he managed to walk across the stage to shake Craig Ferguson’s hand) and soon after Charlie Rose really became a talking head. But it was when the little weather box on the bottom of NY1 disappeared that I knew it was time to put circa 1991 Toshiba out of his misery.
All of this translated into having to discard, and then install, two new household items immediately. It was quite unnerving. Amazon solved the toaster problem, although I wish they would just make toaster ovens like they used to. Why are there so many dials and settings? Toast and Bake are enough, thank you. No ‘convection’, ‘broil’, ‘stay on’ or ‘bagel’ options. What’s a bagel setting anyway?
The TV proved to be more of a challenge. Because of the unnecessary aspect of the bedroom set I decided waltzing into Best Buy to procure a 19” flat screen was just not going to happen. So, I hit Craig’s List. Who knew so many people were getting rid of old TV’s? I could have even gotten one for free if I hadn’t minded going to a stranger’s house in the depths of the Bronx. An art gallery was selling several sets they’d used in an exhibit. Perfect. After emails back and forth I chose a Toshiba 14” with built in DVD for $40! Okay, it was a little 2002-ish but who cares? It was For-ty doll-ars! (Make that $52, the cab home was $12). I zipped down to Chelsea and my new TV was waiting for me in its original packaging, all ready to go. I was feeling very “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar” for the first few feet I had to walk carrying the big box to the elevator. It was the ½ block down to the avenue to try, in vain, to get a taxi that caused a spasm in my back and cuts on my hands from the cardboard handles. After trudging two more blocks, and almost getting hit by a handicapped accessible van (I know, ironic), a taxi swerved to pick me up. In two seconds, and with whiplash from flying up 10th avenue at 70 miles per hour while clinging to my new television, I was home.
I snapped into action. New TV out of box, disconnect old TV and put it in the same box, clean top of bureau where the old TV had sat for 9 years (yuck) and hook up new TV. Ta-da! It worked like a charm. I took the box and old TV into the trash room and it was like nothing had happened—except I now had this hulking thing in my bedroom that looked twice as big as its predecessor. This is what I mean about getting used to new things in my apartment. I couldn’t stop staring at it and it wasn’t even turned on. What are you doing here? I wanted to ask. I missed my old TV. New guy seemed so much bigger than the old one and was infringing on my hairdryer’s bureau space. Plus, it was cutting off part of the mirror, throwing the whole room off balance. Or was I overreacting? I think we know the answer to that question. Regardless, I decided I hated my new TV and had resigned myself to living with it until I felt flush enough to go for the flat screen. And then the winds changed. Its picture is great, the blow drying station hasn’t really been affected AND now I can watch my Mary Tyler Moore DVD’s in bed!
All this to say, the other day I bought rhubarb despite not knowing what I was going to make with it. It looked so pretty in the market. And I reacted to it in the same way as I did with the shopping bag, the toaster and the TV. Who let this big, red, stalky interloper into my house and what was I supposed to do with it? Realizing that unlike the inanimate objects I had at first rejected before embracing, this rhubarb was perishable and I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring it until I was ready to accept it. Although I love strawberry-rhubarb pie I really like to wait for the local berries to hit the market before making it so I scratched that off my list. Rhubarb compote is always a pleasure but I still had the stewed prunes of a few weeks back on my brain. I decided to go with a crumb cake that was so good last summer. I love fruit in my crumb cake because it distracts me from all the butter I know I put into it. Plus, it breaks up the richness of the cake with a little something tart.
And for my next trick I’m taking a piece of cake and a glass of milk to bed with me tonight, along with Dick Van Dyke, Season One.
Welcome Home Rhubarb Crumb Cake
Martha Stewart Everyday Food
Printer friendly version
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus room-temperature butter for pan
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pan
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), divided
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides. Butter and flour parchment and pan, tapping out excess flour.

Make streusel
Whisk together butter, brown sugar, and salt.
Add flour and mix with a fork until large crumbs form. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Make cake
In a medium bowl, combine rhubarb, brown sugar, and 1/4 cup flour.
In another medium bowl, whisk 3/4 cup flour, baking powder, and salt.
In bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
With mixer on low, beat in vanilla, then flour mixture.
Spread batter in prepared pan. Sprinkle with rhubarb and top with streusel.
Bake cake until golden and a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan.
Using paper overhang, lift cake from pan.
Cut into 16 bars. Note: If you are not going to consume immediately store the cake in the refrigerator. The moistness of the fruit will accelerate spoilage.

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