Viola in the night kitchen. Photo by Molly De Coudreaux

FRESH,  A  weekly column on buying and cooking food by cooking instructor Viola Buitoni. Featuring cool culinary emotions and original, uncomplicated recipes.

Up to the time I kissed a Bulgarian, I only knew rhubarb as the child-unfriendly flavor in brown, square hard candies so bitter you bought them in a pharmacy. The Balkan romance soon expired, but the iron curtain on new delights never closed, enriching my cooking language with many a new word, including strawberry-rhubarb as one hyphenated, seasonally coherent ingredient.

I love this cake, as part of a scant collection of baking successes. It is irresistible just out of the oven and continues to beckon as it cools and matures over the course of a week, stored in a cool dry place. A quarter of it disappears while steam is still coming out of it, in the few days following, I shove slices of it in my teenage son’s hands on his way out the door to school, I have it with tea in the afternoon, and as its plumpness gives with age, I like to toast it.

Sour cream bundt with rhubarb, strawberries and brown sugar

(You can print out the recipe here.)

for a 12” bundt pan
3 to 4 rhubarb stalks
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 basket strawberries
1.5 cups sugar
1 stick softened butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs
2 cups sour cream
1 tablespoon butter and 2 tablespoons flour for greasing the pan
3 tablespoons brown sugar
confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Slice the rhubarb in 1” slices and place them in a small sauce pot with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of water. Place over low heat and cook until tender, stirring often to prevent from catching. It should take 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate and place in the refrigerator to cool.

Hull the strawberries and cut them in quarters – or you can make more wedges if they are oversized. But then again, they might be small enough to use whole. It’s really your call.

Place the sugar and butter in a bowl and whisk with glee and conviction until they are creamed

Note that this recipe assumes no appliances other than your hands powering the tools, but if you have either, feel free to use an electric whisk or a countertop mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Sift the flour and baking powder together into a bowl, then mix in the salt and zest.

Separate the eggs and, using a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula (or the paddle attachment on your mixer set on low medium speed) stir the yolks one at a time into the butter and sugar cream. Lastly stir in the sour cream gently, being mindful to scrape the sides of the bowl.

Now add the dry ingredients in 3 to 4 batches, each time stirring just until the flour is just mixed. Be mindful to not over-beat, stop stirring as soon as the ingredients are a happy melange.

Turn the oven on to 375˚F.

Thoroughly grease the bundt pan with the tablespoon of butter, filling every nook, cranny, groove and ridge. Dust it with the flour and swirl it around to make sure the flour coats everything. Turn the pan over the sink and bang it on the sides to shake off the excess flour.

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Spoon 1/4 of them into the bowl and stir in a circular motion to loosen the batter. Add the rest of the egg whites and gently fold them in with a silicone spatula, using a top to bottom circular motion as to not deflate them.

Note that should you notice some bald spots on your mold, you will need to butter and flour them.

Pour ⅓  of the batter in the pan and sprinkle half the remaining brown sugar all around it. Swirl it into the batter with the tip of a knife. Bang the pan on the counter to even the batter and fill any air pocket.

Arrange the strawberries in a tight circle with the cut side up and the narrower side pointing to the center of the pan. Push them down slightly. Spoon the cool rhubarb over the strawberry wedges and sprinkle with the last of the brown sugar.

Tilt the remaining batter over the fruit and spread evenly. Bang the mold on the counter a few times to set and eliminate air pockets.

Place directly on the oven rack and bake for 60 to 75 minutes, until a toothpick or the tip of a knife comes out slightly moist but clean and crumb free.

Note that if you are using a springform pan, you should place it on a cookie sheet, lest the batter leak for a poor seal and sully your oven or, worse, cause smoke or a grease fire.

Turn it onto a cooling rack, it might collapse a little while it cools because of the fruit layer, it’ll still be delicious. If you can let the cake cool all the way before that first steamy slice, you have the willpower that I can never hope to match.

When cool, dust with confectioners sugar before serving.

Note that I very much oppose the practice of dusting dessert with confectioners sugar just because. Any type of sugar is an integral ingredient to the balance of flavors, this recipe is no exception.

Feel free to comment here or DM me on IG @violabuitoni

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A native Italian, US-based professional with 30 years of multifaceted experience in the field of Italian food, Viola transitioned to teaching 10 years ago, with the goal of getting home cooks to gather daily around the stove and table. She believes that from our kitchens, we can make the world a better place. By cooking good food at the intersection of Italian table culture and local agriculture, she teaches people to enjoy and value good food, and understand its critical role to the overall well being of our communities. For more details on registering for Viola’s classes and other food-related activities go to her website.
For more details on registering for Viola’s classes and other food-related activities click here.

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  1. For 3 to 4 rhubarb stalks:
    9 tablespoons of brown sugar + 1.5 cups of white sugar + confectioners’ sugar = hyperglycemia + dental caries.
    C’mon now.

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