Hi guys, tomorrow is the last day you can vote for my blog in Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Awards, where Hummingbird High is a finalist for the Best Baking & Desserts Food Blog Awards. Winners are determined by popular vote, so I’d really appreciate it if you took the time to vote for my blog! It’d mean the world to me.
Now on to this cake… and my news.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to visit San Francisco for one reason or another. San Francisco and I have a very tenuous, delicate relationship. I lived here for a few years after I graduated college, and, to be completely honest with you guys, I absolutely hated it. I’ve written about it before, but the short of the long is this — as a clueless 22-year-old, I was unprepared to live there. I moved to the city spoiled by Portland’s cheap rent and affordability; my time in San Francisco was very lonely and fraught with the stereotypical issues of a young millennial trying to make her way in a big, expensive city. After a couple of years, I moved away to Denver crying the praises of cheap rent and spacious apartments before eventually re-settling back in Portland.
However, since my day job is in software, I often find myself taking business trips to the major tech hub that is San Francisco. I expected to hate the trips, but they turned out to be an unexpected perk — as a person who now worked at a startup, I suddenly belonged with the city in a way I never felt like I did when I had worked here in the past. On these trips, I spent all my evenings sharing many meals at my old haunts with Bay Area-based college friends, roommates, coworkers, etc.
Over time, the city grew on me. Since I wasn’t faced with its annoyances everyday, I found it all to be quaint, nostalgic, and just a part of the Big City Experience before I went home to quiet and clean Portland. I would willingly stand in the line skirting around the block to get a morning bun from Tartine Bakery, battle crowds for a cup of the New Orleans iced coffee at Blue Bottle, and enthusiastically dodge poop and tech bros at Dolores Park. I would return to Portland with bags of 4505 Meats‘ chicharrones for Erlend, lamenting the fact that we couldn’t get good katsu curry or pork belly bao buns in Portland. Ultimately, I was grateful for the few days in the city, but glad to be back home.
Lately, however, my trips to San Francisco have started feeling a little bit melancholy. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something a little bit heartbreaking about being able to navigate a city like it’s your own but not calling it your home. The friends that I left behind here have gone on to do interesting things and built wonderful lives from themselves. At our reunions, it’s easy to imagine myself as a part of their life in San Francisco as I listen to their complaints about the city. Heck, even riding my old Muni and BART lines, not even having to look at a map, it’s easy to imagine that I’m still a part of the city’s narrative and that I still lived here. Is this what life would be like if I had stayed? What kind of life would I have built for myself? Would I have been happier if I’d just… persevered? In the end, I think that it’s regret that I feel — for leaving the city and not trying harder when I was here. I know that if I moved here now, I would appreciate all the things that I took for granted back when I was a whiny, bratty, and scared 22-year-old.
Which brings us to now. A few weeks ago, I accepted a job offer from a major tech company whose product I love and use on an almost daily basis. It’s a dream job and one that my 22-year-old self back in the day would have killed for. Heck, it’s one that my 27-year-old self would kill for, considering how stunted and stagnated I’ve felt in my current job. So what does this all mean?
It’s sudden, unexpected, crazy, thrilling, and scary all at once.
Despite my excitement for the job and the opportunity to “re-do” my time in San Francisco, it comes at a high cost. First off, I love Portland. I see it as my home, and where I ultimately want to end up. I’ll be putting my house, the one with the beautiful kitchen that I spent all of last summer painstakingly renovating, on the rental market. Goodbye baking station and herb garden… hello teeny, tiny studio that I’m paying an obscene amount of money for. That is, if I can even find one, considering how obscene San Francisco’s rental market is. But that’s another story, one that you’ll probably hear a lot about in the next few weeks.
And of course, the elephant in the room — Erlend. The boyfriend of 4-and-a-half years is heading the complete opposite direction, starting a graduate program in New York City at the end of the summer. We had planned for me to move to the city with him, but now, that’s just completely flown out the window. I’m disappointed and sad (I’ve always wanted to live in New York — I had even picked out a neighborhood in Brooklyn for us to live in), and he’s even more so. But we both know that this San Francisco opportunity is too good to pass up (especially after several of my interviews in New York leading absolutely nowhere), and we’re going to give the long distance thing a try. Sigh.
And just like that, my whole world has been turned upside down. Which, yes, is a cheesy way to segue into talking about this cake, but oh well… cut me some slack, I’m a bit of a mess right now. I don’t have much to say about the cake other than it’s tasty and easy to make, which is what you should do because rhubarb is finally in season. The cake is a study of contrasting textures and flavors: the rhubarb is added in raw, which helps retain some firmness and contrasts with the soft sponge base; the woody toasted almond flavor of the marzipan crumbles versus the tart sourness of the fresh rhubarb fruit. All in all, it’s the perfect late spring snack cake, with or without a life-changing event.
Some baker’s notes:
- This recipe works with a variety of different summer fruits, especially stone fruits like plums and berries. You can experiment with different combinations and quantities of fruit, just be sure to adjust the quantity of granulated sugar accordingly. The amount of sugar you use should also depend on the fruit’s ripeness — just remember that you’re also adding marzipan in, so definitely use less sugar than you think you need.
- Be sure to use a cake pan with deep sides — this cake makes a ton of batter, which then sits up top a pretty sizeable layer of fruit. I used a 9 x 3-inch round cake pan, but you can also use a springform pan.
- When making upside down cakes, it’s best to invert the cake 15 to 20 minutes after pulling it out of the oven, while it’s still warm. Waiting until it’s cooled to room temperature will cause the cake to stick!
Rhubarb and Marzipan Upside Down Cake
- A food processor
- a 9 x 3-inch round cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan (see baker’s notes)
For the Marzipan Crumble
- 2.5 ounces marzipan
- 1 tablespoon almond meal
- 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
For the Rhubarb Topping
- 1 1/2 pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2 inch cubes ((around 4 cups))
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the Vanilla Lemon Sponge Cake Base
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- zest of 1 lemon, freshly grated
- 2 cups cake flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
For the Marzipan Crumble
- Break 2.5 ounces marzipan into small pieces and place in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times, before adding 1 tablespoon almond meal through the feed tube, pulsing to blend. Continue pulsing and add 1 tablespoon cold butter and 1 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar. DO NOT PROCESS FOR MORE THAN A FEW SECONDS AT A TIME — stop pulsing when the crumble is in pea-sized clusters.
For the Rhubarb Topping
- Prepare a 9 x 3-inch round cake pan by spraying generously with cooking spray. Line the bottom with a parchment paper circle, before spraying generously with cooking spray as well. Place the cake pan on a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, toss together 1 1/2 pounds sliced rhubarb cubes and 2 teaspoons cornstarch until well combined. Set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine 1/4 cup light brown sugar and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Whisk constantly until the mixture is smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes.
- Once the butter has fully melted and the mixture is combined, remove from heat. Set aside to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes or so, before pouring into the bottom of the prepared cake pan.
- Spoon the rhubarb and its juices on top of the brown-sugar mixture in the cake pan. Use your fingers to sprinkle the marzipan crumble on top of the fruit and brown-sugar mixture. Set aside while you make the cake base.
For the Vanilla Lemon Sponge Cake Base
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 (F).
- In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and the zest from 1 freshly grated lemon. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar — this will help release oils from the lemon zest and make the sugar aromatic. Set aside once the sugar starts to become fragrant.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 cups cake flour, 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1 teaspoon ground ginger until well combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 cup granulated sugar and lemon zest (from the 1st step) and 1 cup unsalted butter. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl halfway through.
- Once the mixture is light and fluffy, slow the mixer down to its lowest setting. Add 4 large eggs, one at a time, only adding the next egg after the previous one has been fully incorporated. Once all the eggs have been added, add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and continue mixing until fully incorporated, before adding 1/3 cup sour cream and 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Continue mixing until fully incorporated, then stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Turn the mixer back to its lowest speed and add the flour mixture (from the 2nd step), 1/4 cup at a time, until just incorporated. It's okay to stop the mixer a little early if you have 1 or 2 flour streaks left, and finish the rest by hand using a rubber spatula.
- Transfer the batter to the cake pan containing the brown sugar and rhubarb, spooning it over the fruit. Use an offset spatula to smooth out the top.
- Transfer the baking sheet containing the cake pan to the preheated oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top of the cake bounces back when gently touched and a cake skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out without any large, moist crumbs.
- Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, run a knife around the cake, place a plate on top of the pan, and turn it upside-down. Tap on the base of the cake pan until the cake releases onto the plate. Once the cake is on the plate, allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve while warm.