I’m always eager to embrace rhubarb season: an elusive and exciting annual moment. This year, it coincided with a single banana ripening in my fruit bowl, as well as a craving for a light but satisfying spring dessert.
Depending on the recipe, mashed banana can replace part of the role of eggs in baking, holding together the batter while diffusing its tropical taste – and I knew its creamy-sweet qualities would balance nicely with tangy rhubarb. I decided on a one-bowl, tender upside-down cake that would flaunt the stalks and offer a pleasant complexity to the palate.
For a burst of warmth alongside the otherwise cool flavors, I reached for a double dose of ginger, which proved to be a marvelous match. Orange zest and juice also added to the cake’s brightness and tangy-sweet notes.
The result is not only a flavorful, ultra-moist dessert that’s free of eggs and dairy; it also turns out to be stunning, with a blanket of brilliant pink rhubarb draped over its top (and decadent caramely edges, too!).
Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (serves 8-10)
1 pound fresh rhubarb stalks (see note)
2/3 cup + 1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium very ripe banana (see note)
1 medium orange
1.5 ounces fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1.25 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
Rinse rhubarb; trim and discard tough ends. Slice stalks in half once crosswise, and then once lengthwise (unless they are already very narrow). Set aside.
Using 1 tablespoon oil, thoroughly coat the interior of a 9 to 10 inch ovenproof skillet such as cast iron. Place rhubarb in skillet in a single parallel pile, trimming ends to make it fit if needed. Top rhubarb with 1/4 cup brown sugar.
Place pan over medium-low heat and cover with lid. Cook 5 minutes, remove lid, and use heatproof tongs to gently rotate top and bottom layers of rhubarb. Cover and cook another 5 minutes. Rhubarb should be very soft and juicy. Remove lid, remove pan from heat, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel the banana and mash it well with a fork until no longer lumpy. Measure the mashed banana; it should yield 1/3 to 1/2 cup. (If yours yields more than this, set aside extra and use for another purpose. If less, add a bit more oil to make at least 1/3 cup total.)
Rinse, dry, and finely zest the orange; set zest aside. Juice the orange and measure out 1/4 cup juice, discarding any seeds. Set juice aside. Peel and finely grate a piece of fresh ginger root (see note); then measure out 2 teaspoons grated ginger. Heat a kettle of water.
In a large bowl, beat 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Add the vanilla, mashed banana, and grated ginger. Mix well. Sift over the mixture: powdered ginger, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Begin to mix (batter will be thick), alternately adding the 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/2 cup boiling water. Beat well, scraping sides and bottom of bowl with spatula. Finally, fold in the orange zest until evenly distributed.
Before adding batter into skillet, gently rearrange rhubarb, pulling it to edges of the pan to ensure the bottom of the cake is completely covered in a single layer of rhubarb – preferably with most of the stalks going in the same direction. Slowly pour batter over rhubarb and place skillet in oven.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out batter-free (a few moist crumbs are OK). Carefully remove from oven. Let sit at least an hour or until pan is cool enough to grasp.
Just when ready to serve, loosen edges of cake with a knife, and invert onto a plate. If cake has completely cooled or is the least bit stubborn about coming out of pan, be sure to place skillet over medium heat on stovetop for 30-60 seconds before flipping. The cake is best served the day of baking, but feel free to store it covered and refrigerated, eating within a day.
- To yield the prettiest cake possible, pick rhubarb that’s the deepest pink in color you can find, both inside and outside of the stalks if possible.
- For best results, use a banana that’s extremely ripe, dark and soft. This will be easier to work with and will provide the maximum moistness and pleasant sweetness in the cake.
- Grating ginger can be tricky. I like to use a sharp, fine grater such as a Microplane, and I begin by cutting my ginger into a rectangular box shape (this eliminates having to peel it, too). Holding one end of the cut ginger, firmly push the other end — going against the fibrous grains of ginger — into the grater, dragging it along quickly. Once grated, the ginger will be a bit liquidy.