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I have grown up with the mentality that when rhubarb is in season, you think of every way to use it: jam, sauce (yes rhubarb sauce is a thing and people that love it, love it), and numerous baked goods. For jam and sauce, rhubarb is perfect! The thin cell walls of rhubarb contain a lot of moisture and break down quickly. While great for jams, this can be a challenge for cakes, bread, and muffins. The rhubarb can leech a lot of excess water into the baked good and if not accounted for, the result can be heavy and wet.
But don’t worry: this coffee cake is just right! It’s soft and moist but not heavy or wet. The perfect recipe for success!
What is a coffee cake?
Originally, coffee cake in England was a sponge cake made using coffee. Imagine that! In American culture, we refer to coffee cake as any cake we eat for breakfast. Logical right? Never fully frosted, sometimes glazed, and if we’re talking a truly classic version, sprinkled with a streusel topping.
I view coffee cake as a treat and love to have it as an option for brunch or a way to enjoy the season… like with rhubarb. Often, the texture is light and spongy and has a slight spice with cinnamon. That’s why including cinnamon in this recipe was of the utmost importance!
Why does rhubarb work in this cake?
When I was young, we used an old recipe to make a rhubarb cake. The cake often turned out as I described earlier: wet and heavy, almost to the point that no matter how much the pan was greased, the cake would stick. As the rhubarb baked, all the liquid oozed out into the batter and the excess liquid already in the recipe would not allow the rhubarb liquid to escape. It was a mess!
This coffee cake has just the right amount of rhubarb and not much excess liquid. Instead of milk or buttermilk, sour cream is the only other liquid. The batter is thick and holds up to the rhubarb. And just to be sure, as an extra precaution, the rhubarb is sprinkled with a small amount of flour to help soak up the liquid.
Watch how to make this coffee cake
Rhubarb Coffee Cake
- ¾ cup white granulated sugar
- ¾ cup light brown sugar
- 2 cups + 1 tbsp flour separated
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¾ cup butter cold, cut into pieces
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups chopped rhubarb
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×9" baking dish and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the white sugar, brown sugar, 2 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
- Add the pieces of cold butter and cut them into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles wet sand with pieces of butter the size of a pea or smaller. Remove 1 ¼ cups of the mixture and set aside.
- To the remaining crumbled mixture left in the bowl, add the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. Whisk until combined and pour into prepared baking dish. Add the chopped rhubarb on top, sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp flour. Top with reserved streusel.
- Bake in preheated oven until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, 40-55 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 15 minutes before serving.