Sunday, April 10, 2011

R & R

I don't subscribe to Sunset magazine. A random copy of it arrived in my mailbox the other day anyway. Thumbing through it, I realized it was not the same magazine my mother used to subscribe to, with Michigan-ized enchilada recipes and how-to-build-your-own-deck instructions. Instead, I found a recipe developed by some organic farmer-restaurateur in Canada for Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake with Caramel-Rosemary Sauce.

Putting aside for a moment the fact that the title of this dessert is far too long, it occurred to me that rosemary, cream, and sugar just might work drizzled over a cake with fruit on top. Or on bottom. Hard to say with an upside-down cake. Regardless of direction, I got started. An acquaintance has a lovely rosemary bush growing in his yard; he donated a healthy sprig to this endeavor. Green & Black's makes the best white chocolate bar I've ever had (let's face it, white chocolate doesn't excite anyone); it imparted a lovely vanilla flavor to the cake.  Berkeley Bowl, of course, supplied the rhubarb.

The cake was perfectly edible on its own. The flavor and texture were pleasing, and the tart rhubarb is always a nice contrast to anything sweet. But the sauce... oh, the sauce! Cream, infused with rosemary, gets stirred into caramelized sugar with a touch of lemon juice. First the sweetness hits the taste buds, and then the rosemary, yet the rosemary is anything but an afterthought. After the cake was gone-- I had help eating it, I swear-- I found excuses to dip a spoon into the remaining sauce: my smoothie needed a boost, my coffee wasn't sweet enough (whoa-- not delicious), my tongue needed some rosemary cream sauce, etc...  I love that rosemary, usually an herb reserved for savory dishes, is featured so prominently in this dessert, and it works. 

Truthfully, I omitted half the recipe: the cake is also supposed to have a warm rhubarb compote poured over it, alongside the rosemary caramel sauce. Next to all that should be a scoop of Sour Cream Chamomile Ice Cream. Handmade, of course, featuring chamomile I grow myself. I admit I am curious about the ice cream. But in addition to this dessert's title becoming Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake with Rosemary-Caramel Sauce and Warm Rhubarb Compote Accompanied by Sour Cream Chamomile Ice Cream, its being also becomes too complicated. The unexpectedness of the rosemary is the limit for one dessert. More herbs, flavors, and sauces would just make it garish.

I suppose that's the trouble with getting pretentious-- it's hard to know when enough is enough.

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake with Rosemary-Caramel Sauce
(adapted from Sunset magazine, April 2011)
1/2 lb rhubarb, cut into 1/2-in slices (2 cups)
1/2 C + 3 TBSP granulated sugar
3 oz white chocolate, chopped
1/3 C unsalted butter, room temperature
2 egg whites, room temperature
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 C cake flour 
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C milk

Sauce **
1 C whipping cream
1 rosemary sprig
1 C granulated sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 9-in round cake pan (or 8 one-cup ramekins). [Optional: line pans with parchment paper cut to fit bottom. Butter/spray paper.] 
2. In a bowl, toss rhubarb with 3 tsp granulated sugar. Spoon evenly into pan or ramekins.
3. Melt white chocolate in a double boiler. Whisk until smooth, 2-4 minutes. Let cool.
4. Beat butter and 1/2 C sugar in a bowl until fluffy. Add egg whites and vanilla. Beat until well-blended. 
5. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in another bowl. Beat flour mixture into egg mixture alternately with milk (half at a time), until smooth. Stir in chocolate. 
6. Spread batter evenly over rhubarb. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (28-35 minutes). Let cool in pan. 
7. Meanwhile, heat cream and rosemary in small saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form at edge of pan, stirring occasionally, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard rosemary. 
8. Stir granulated sugar with lemon juice and 2 TBSP water in a 12-in frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat, occasionally swirling mixture around sides to wash down sugar crystals, until deep golden, 5-6 minutes. Immediately remove pan from heat, add cream (it will bubble up), and whisk until smooth. Transfer to serving bowl.
9. Loosen cake from pan/ramekins. Invert over serving plate(s). Remove paper, if used. Spoon a bit of sauce over slices, and serve. 

 ** My sauce turned out more custardy than caramely. This is probably due to my impatience with all things sweet. To achieve a more golden sticky caramel sauce, one must follow the recipe.


  1. Mia, your writing almost inspires me to attempt to cook something. Everything sounds so yummy! The pictures are beautiful. Remember when we made carmel corn? That's as good as it gets for me. Miss you....

  2. Almost, huh? Sounds like a challenge to me! ;) Either that or I'll just have to come to Palatine to help you cook something-- though of course with fewer words in the title.

    I miss you, too!