Big Crumb Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Holy crap, how is summer halfway over already?

I have, like, eight recipes for rhubarb stuff on my delicious (warning: about 80 lemon-related recipes ahead) and rhubarb season is already starting to slip away. Gah.


At least I got this one out of the way.

Sadly, though, procrastination got the better of me and I’m only posting it now . . . about five weeks after making it. This is bad for several reasons.

1) Rhubarb season is slipping away quickly.

2) Now I am craving a piece of this cake and there is none to be had.

OK. Two reasons.

I love crumb cakes. And I love rhubarb. So, really, there was no debate on whether or not I’d be giving this recipe a shot.

Sadly, my crumb topping didn’t turn out quite as nicely. In fact, I had to kind of manipulate the crumb topping into actual “crumbs” (I suspect I needed a little more butter), but it was still delicious. A nice layer of sweetened rhubarb slices through the middle was a good contrast to the cake and sweetened crumble topping.

Normally, I’d meditate more on the failures of this attempt, but, let’s face it, it was cake, with rhubarb, topped in a mixture of sugar and butter. Even if the crumb topping was kind of crummy, it was still going to be fantastic.

Update: I just went back to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe and found that I’m not the only one who had problems with the crumb topping. Apparently, it’s all about the order in which you mix the crumb ingredients… (Instructions below the recipe will outline the correct way.) Yay! Now I’m ready to try this again and hope for much better results.

Sliced rhubarb

Cake pre-crumb

Big Crumb Rhubarb Coffee Cake

This is courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, which she apparently adapted from the New York Times.

‘Big Crumb’ Coffeecake with Rhubarb

Rhubarb filling

  • 1/2 pound rhubarb, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Crumb topping

  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour


  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 8 pieces.

Preheat oven to 325. Butter an 8-inch-square baking pan.

Slice the rhubarb into 1/2″ thick pieces, then toss with sugar, ginger and cornstarch.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. THEN, add flour with spatula or wooden spoon. It (should) will look and feel like a solid dough. Set aside.

Stir together sour cream, egg, yolk and vanilla. Using a mixer, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Mix in butter and a spoonful of the sour cream mixture until flour is moistened. Increase speed for 30 seconds. Add the rest of the sour cream mixture in two batches, beating for 20 seconds each time. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of the batter and set aside. Put the rest of the batter into the prepared pan.

Spoon rhubarb mix over the batter, then top with dollops of the 1/2 cup of batter set aside.

Using your fingers, break topping mixture into big crumbs — 1/2″ to 3/4″.  Sprinkle over cake.

Bake for between 45 and 55 minutes — until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

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The smell of basil is the smell of summer.


And not just because it is readily available in the months when the sun is out more often than not and the days are long.
It’s also because I will forever associate the smell of basil with my grandfather and summer afternoons in his studio when we would make pesto.


He had a greenhouse that somehow managed to produce a never-ending supply of this fragrant herb. (Along with peppers and tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes. I loved eating them when their skins were still warm from being inside the hothouse; their taste was unparalleled.) So pesto was not just a treat that could be made with basil, it was a way of harvesting and putting to use mass quantities of the stuff.

The remaining ingredients, he always had on hand. Heads of papery garlic always sat in a bowl on the work table that separated the kitchen from the rest of the studio. Parsley was harvested from a large pot on the front deck. As a man who wished he was Italian, olive oil and parmesan were always part of the pantry.

He would store the pesto in baby jars in the freezer, sending a few home with me at the end of my visits to the island.

I started making my own pesto a couple of years ago, though in infinitely smaller batches since I have no garden nor greenhouse and must depend on the bags of basil from the farmer’s market. But I, like him, freeze what I don’t think I’ll quickly consume. Then, in the depths of winter, when the sun goes down before I get home from work and the wind can chill me to the bones, I can pull it out. I add it to soups or pasta sauces or cook it with a little cream and pour over pasta with a fresh few grates of Parmesan. In these small ways, I bring back the summer, and the smells and sounds of being with my grandfather.

Olive Oil


Pesto pre-blending

Pesto II

There are a million variations on pesto recipes. This is one I like, which I adapted from two recipes.


  • 2 cups packed basil
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch or two pepper (I just do a few grinds)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor. Blitz two or three times to get it going, then turn on and let run while drizzling oil in. Stop when all the oil is incorporated but before it gets too thin. I like mine to still have a slightly chunky feel to it.

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