It was one of those days, so typical as of late, where I had a lot to do but none of those things were time-specific nor pleasant (yes I’m talking about studying). On the schedule of my day there was one fixed point, a quick task to be done precisely at 16. The time between lunch and that little job I’ve decided to spend on looking through my Pinterest feed. I mean, there is no point to start a chapter if you have to leave in two hours, right? And all there was on my feed were rhubarb pies. Rhubarb compotes. Rhubarb syrups. Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb. It would have been no problem was this plant widely available in this wonderful country in which I live. But no, the supermarkets don’t carry it, nor do most of the small grocery shops in my neighborhood. Suddenly I remembered of a farmer’s market organized on Fridays in Porta Romana, which was about to close in a quarter.
My bike helped me get there in no time but the stalls were already wrapping up. Yet I managed to spot the longed-after stalks… only to learn that the seller is no longer allowed to proceed with any transactions because of possible tax issues (Italian residents, please note the irony). But simply seeing that it is possible to find rhubarb here fueled my craving so much I just couldn’t allow the thought of coming home without it.
With an hour on hand left, I decided to bike to the other side of the city, to a fancy schmancy shop where they sell flours ground the week before and that kind of extravagancies. It was 34°C in the sun, the traffic was insane, and there I was, amidst the fumes, crazy drivers, horns, one-way streets, cobblestone… I don’t think I was lucid after the twenty minutes it took me to get to my destination.
Which I left empty-handed.
It was almost 16, so I had to get back to Porta Romana to do the only thing for which I had to be on time that day. But remember those one-way steets? I got completely lost. My phone was dead. The strike of public transportation denied me my usual get-back-home technique, which is to follow a tram with a familiar route. Then, some frustrated driver decided to turn without any heads up and I went through my first, luckily entirely not serious, accident. In the end, I was an hour late (plus disgustingly sweaty and pretty much pre-heart attack), but hey, at least I made it there.
I guess a normal person would give up on rhubarb after such an adventure. But nah, how could I? The next morning, after about four hours of sleep and a bad hangover, I woke up my roommate and took her to another farmer’s market, where we managed to spot just one seller who had rhubarb. You can only imagine how happy/relieved I was.
We turned my prey into a classic Polish cake, which makes me somehow nostalgic even thought I may never have eaten it as a child. You can swap strawberries or apricots for the rhubarb if the effort doesn’t seem worth it to you.
Polish Rhubarb Cake
(makes 1 22x18cm cake)
2 ½ cup flour (I used whole wheat)
7g/one packet dry yeast
½ cup fine sugar
2 tbsp neutral oil
150ml warm water (see note)
1 lemon, zest
300g rhubarb, or more
for the crumble:
3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp almond meal (or more flour)
3 tbsp cold coconut oil (place in the fridge for 20-30 mins before using)
2-3 tbsp fine sugar
note: the amount of water will depend on the flour you use. The whiter the flour, the less there is fiber, the lower water absorption. If you decide to use white flour, start with 100ml of water and add gradually if the dough seems too dense.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour with the yeast, salt, sugar, and lemon zest. In a cup, mix the oil with the measured water, making sure it’s just warm to touch.
Prepare your mixed, fit it with the dough hooks. This dough is rather sticky (this makes for lighter structure of baked cake) so working it with your hands will prove rather annoying.
Place the mixer in the bowl with dry mixture and start it, simultaneously adding the liquid in a slow but steady stream. Work it for about 5-7 minutes. It should be sticky to touch, but still hold its shape.
Cover with plastic foil, set aside to proof for 1 -1½ hours, until doubled in size.
Now prepare that rhubarb! Cut off the dry ends of both sides, peel the outside fibers with a knife (you can just pull them away), then slice into 1cm chunks.
Move on to the crumble. Mix flour with sugar and almond meal, add the coconut oil and combine everything with your fingers. Put back in the fridge before ready to use.
Prepare the baking tin by lightly greasing it with neutral oil (you can dampen a kitchen towel and just smear the oil this way to ensure a very thin layer), then sprinkle with flour, making sure to leave no spots uncovered. We’re talking the bottom and at least half of the height of the sides!
Preheat the oven to 180° degrees.
Now take your dough and stretch it to fill the tin, making sure that the thickness is the same everywhere.
Lightly press the rhubarb chunks into the dough.
Take the crumble out of the freezer, you should be able to grate it on top of the fruit. Do so. Otherwise just break away small pieces and press them onto the rhubarb.
And into the oven! The baking time is around 45 minutes.
Let cool a little before slicing.
A dusting of powdered sugar never hurt.