Reasons to Say Grace: Rhubarb Coffeecake

It’s that season.

You know how sometimes you have a gardening friend who will show up at your house unannounced and go, “Look! I’ve brought you an enormous quantity of undesirable plant matter!”

“Wow!” you say. “I had no idea people planted this stuff on purpose!”

Your gardening friend will blush, charmingly, and scuff the ground with one foot. “No need to thank me. Anything I can do to help a friend.”

When you go to a party in the town where I live — a town where people REALLY like to garden, a town where everyone has their own chickens, a town where people think studio apartments are acceptable quarters for goats — any time between April and October, you can always spot the host’s gardening friend. She’s the one who strolls in the door carrying crostini fixings, a bottle of wine, and a heavy, suspicious-looking paper bag.

I attended such a party yesterday, and the gardening friend arrived right on cue. Before she had even set her wine on the counter, my host winced and flung her hands into the air.

“Don’t do it. I don’t want it. I won’t use it. Here, make Cat take it.”

It all happened too quickly for me to say no. At the end of the night, I shuffled out to my car, laden with an enormous sack of thick magenta stems and a fragment of paper the gardening friend had pressed into my hand. She’d leaned in close and whispered: “Make this tomorrow. I promise you won’t regret it.”

Boy, was she right.

This coffeecake is simply heavenly — it takes about ten minutes to put together (if you pre-chop your rhubarb), and it’s moist, light, and sweet without being cloying. Best of all, you can’t taste the rhubarb in the least.

Ingredients for Cake
1½ cups white sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt (use less if you have salted butter)
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups finely chopped rhubarb (pieces should be pea-sized or smaller)

Ingredients for Topping
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp flaxseed (optional. I’ve been adding flaxseed to everything lately; somehow it makes baked goods seem healthier)


1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Grease a 13×9 pan, OR line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups (you’ll need about two dozen).

3. Cream butter and sugar.

4. Beat in egg, buttermilk, and vanilla.

5. In separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and soda.

6. With exquisite gentleness, stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Stop when just combined.

7. Using the same gentle hand, stir in rhubarb.

8. Pour the batter into the pan or the muffin cups. Spread it out evenly.

9. In your dry-ingredients bowl, combine the topping ingredients. Cut the butter (this means “smush the butter around with a knife”) into the sugar and cinnamon. You should end up with a crumbly brown mixture.

10. Pile the topping onto the batter. If you’re using a 13×9 pan, go crazy. If you’re using muffin cups, be a bit more conservative; you don’t want the topping to overflow and glue your muffins to the top of the muffin tin.

11. Bake for 20-25 minutes (muffin tin), 25-30 minutes (metal 13×9 pan), or 30-35 minutes (glass 13×9 pan). Cake is finished when a fork inserted comes out clean except for topping crumbs.

12. Serve warm with ice cream, fresh whipped cream, or all by itself.

13. Say grace. Here’s one I used to love at Girl Scout camp:

Back of the bread is the flour,
and back of the flour is the mill;
and back of the mill is the sun and the rain
and the Maker’s will.

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4 Responses to Reasons to Say Grace: Rhubarb Coffeecake

  1. Mary Sicilia says:

    But don’t forget the farmer and the miller….

  2. Mike Healy says:

    Mmmmmmm- does that sound good. I’ve had strawberry/rhubarb pie, which can also be really good if the baker uses enough sugar! Love, Dad

  3. Maureen O'Connor says:

    I personally have always felt the rhubarb distracted from the strawberry taste. I remember rhubarb growing in Grandma Costello’s yard in Chicago Lawn.

    Aunt Maureen

  4. Maureen O'Connor says:

    I personally have always felt the rhubarb distracted from the strawberry taste. I remember rhubarb growing in Grandma Costello’s yard in Chicago Lawn. The people next door had a chicken coop. It felt like a visit to the country when we went there.

    Aunt Maureen

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