Wake Up to a Slice of This Springy, Stunning Rhubarb Coffee Cake

The recipe stars in this week’s episode of Mad Genius.

Colorful, tart rhubarb is one of our favorite spring vegetables, right up there with peas, asparagus, and the other fresh ingredients the season has to offer. You'll often find it featured in desserts, such as a crisp or a crumble. But in this week's episode of Mad Genius, Food & Wine Culinary Director-at-Large Justin Chapple goes the breakfast and brunch route with his recipe for Rhubarb Coffee Cake, which is topped with bright rhubarb stalks and a buttery, crumbly streusel.

"You are going to love this delicious cake with its springy crumb and its tart, rosy rhubarb top," he says.

The cake is pretty simple to make, and it can be served warm or at room temperature—pair it with a cup of coffee for a weekday breakfast, or a glass of Champagne for a holiday brunch. If it sounds like your kind of morning treat, read on for Justin's method and follow along with the video above.

Marinate The Rhubarb

Justin kicks off the episode by demonstrating how he preps his rhubarb stalks: trimming off the ends, cutting any thicker stalks in half, and discarding the leaves, since they're poisonous and not edible. Once that's done, put the stalks on a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle them with granulated sugar, tossing the rhubarb so that it's evenly coated. Allowing the sugar to sit on the rhubarb for 20 to 30 minutes will not only help temper its tartness, but soften the stalks as well.

Prepare Your Streusel

Next, grab all-purpose flour, light brown sugar, ground cinnamon, and kosher salt, and combine them in a medium bowl. You can either stir them together, or do as Justin does in the video and use your fingers to mix them and break up any clumps. Add the chilled unsalted butter pieces after that and use your fingers to work them into the mixture so that the butter is incorporated and the streusel topping is evenly moistened. Then, cover the streusel and refrigerate it until you're ready to use it (or up to 12 hours).

Make the Cake Batter

For the cake itself, you'll need all-purpose flour, kosher salt, baking powder, baking soda, unsalted butter, granulated sugar, large eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Gather your dry ingredients first—the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda—and whisk them together in a medium bowl. Set that mixture aside and add the butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beating them together on medium until the mixture becomes light and fluffy. Keep the mixer running on medium and beat in the eggs, one at a time; then, reduce the speed to low and beat in the buttermilk and vanilla. Finally, gradually add the flour mixture to the mixer as it runs on low, beating until it's just incorporated into the batter.

Assemble and Bake

Grab a 13- x 9-inch baking pan or dish and lightly grease it with unsalted butter; then, dust the pan with all-purpose flour and shake out any excess. Pour the batter into the pan and spread it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Here's where the rhubarb comes in—take the stalks and arrange them lengthwise in a single layer on top of the batter. After sprinkling the streusel on top, bake the cake in a preheated 350°F oven for 55 minutes to 65 minutes. A wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake should come out clean.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen


After the cake is done, let it cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes, or up to six hours. Feel free to serve the cake either warm or cooled completely—when ready, cut yourself a generous square and grab your mug of coffee, if desired.

"The texture of the coffee cake is crumbly and springy at the same time," Justin says. "It's quintessential coffee cake texture. But it is not about that. Ladies and gentleman, it is about that rhubarb. You need to go out, get some rhubarb, preheat that oven, and spring into action and make this recipe."

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