Rhubarb and Marzipan Upside Down Cake (And Some News)

April 29, 2015

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.

To vote for me, head on over to SAVEUR Blog Awards!

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?

I'll be moving back to San Francisco in less than a month's time. 

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




Special Equipment:

For the Marzipan Crumble:
(makes enough for one 9-inch cake)
  • 2.5 ounces marzipan
  • 1 tablespoon almond meal
  • 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

For the Rhubarb Topping:
(makes enough for one 9-inch cake)
  • 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:
(makes one tall 9-inch cake)
  • 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:
  1. 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:
  1. 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.

  2. In a medium bowl, toss together 1 1/2 pounds sliced rhubarb cubes and 2 teaspoons cornstarch until well combined. Set aside.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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:
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325 (F).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.



  1. Voted! Good luck with all the upcoming changes: I am looking forward to see you SF and occasionally NYC creations :-)

  2. Jessie Snyder | Faring WellApril 29, 2015 at 7:33 AM

    Michelle! I am SO excited for you. Life happens exactly how it should and all the places you've been, and will go, are chapters in your exciting life story! Learning from what we've done is the best we can do with the past, and embracing the present is literally THE BEST we can do! This seems to all be falling into place for you, and although I totally understand feeling like a mess (and crazy at times, you know a bit of my story) and am super sorry for the bummer that is the pending long-distance relationship - this is life and through reading your words above I just kept getting more and more excited for you! Plus I mean, TARTINE. ;)

  3. While you will be deeply missed, I am excited for you and this adventure! And, SF is an EASY flight!

  4. That's amazing news about your job, congratulations. Such a shame you will be leaving your beautiful kitchen though. I hope long-distance works out for you guys.
    I go mad for marzipan, it's such a wonderful thing. Plus I bet it tastes amazing with the rhubarb. Love the photos aswell :)

  5. Thank you so much Cristina! I really appreciate your support :-)

  6. Thanks Jessie! I'm pretty excited too, but ohmagawd, there is so much to do before I go!

    Also, my new place isn't all that far away from Tartine ;-)

  7. Ugh, I KNOW. I was really heartbroken about the kitchen! It's barely even a year old!!! But I'll be back. Fingers crossed.

  8. Wow, that sounds so exciting to me! Apart from the long-distance thing which is a drag, but San Fracnisco and dream job is pretty awesome. Make sure to not stress out too much and have fun in the process. The cake is great by the way. Looove rhubarb!

  9. Overly excited for you and this new chapter of your life! Congratulations on the job and I'm sure you will love it.
    And this cake is beautiful, love the combination of marzipan and rhubarb and your styling in this post is on point!!! From the flowers to the plates to the colors, I love it all!

  10. Exactly what I love about Hummingbird High. Inspiring recipes and life experiences, baked together and shared with whoever stops by. Thank you for living (a little) out loud.

  11. Hahah, thanks for the reminder! That's definitely something I need help with right now, hhaah!

  12. So excited for you! Since I've been visiting for a few weeks now, I've begun to feel the pull again and am wondering if I left too soon, too. Can't wait to run around town with you!!

  13. All the best to you!!

  14. Wow,wow wow Michelle.....Well first off, this upside down cake looks like a dream! And as for your move, that is one heck of a move (punned) to make!!! But I pray that God will guide you and lead your every step on this journey, since it's definitely another chance to take advantage of the blessings you might have overlooked before. :) isn't it cool when we get second chances like that?? Also, I can see why visiting Sf is so awesome as I've done that several times. But living in it would be a huge adjustment for me. It's much too chaotic and "heavy" in a sense--perhaps even more chaotic than LA--but then everything like the food, walking the streets, awesome people, what have you, make up for the craziness there! :D

  15. Less than a month?? Michelle!!! This is such exciting news...and totally scary, but scary isn't a bad thing! I'm a whopping 5 years your elder, and have moved A LOT, so I feel like I can give advice and say that making friends isn't as hard as people say and new cities leave so much to be explored! Wishing you tons of luck....OH! And I will be saving this recipe for later. You couldn't possibly know my rhubarb obsession, but it's wide and always accepting new ideas!

  16. Congrats! Changes always feel bittersweet, but hopefully you'll be able to settle in quickly and be able to soak it all in (easier said than done, I know).

  17. Congrats on your new opportunity! Portland will miss you. I don't think I could leave that beautiful kitchen so easily, but the best thing is that Portland isn't so far away. It will always be here to visit! (And now I'm off to stalk all the rental listings...)

  18. butter and briocheApril 29, 2015 at 2:10 PM

    Congrats on the big news! I've always wanted to visit San Fran.. so I definitely am jealous. The long-distance thing must be sucky but I'm sure it will work out well for you guys - 4 and a half years is a long time! I hope you find an incredible new home and kitchen too Michelle Xx

  19. Congratulations lady! An amazing new job - that is brilliant, and totally deserved! And this cake looks incredible, and I know that you and Erland will make it work. You got this! YAAY!

  20. Wishing you luck in all your ventures! Whatever happens cake will always make things better :)

  21. Aaaaahmagaaad what a huge change!!! Though I've never even been to San Francisco, I daydream about living there all the time! I have this vague idea in my head that once I get the most out of the place that I'm at now - probable 3 to 5 years - I'll move somewhere down the coast, with the top two cities being Portland and San Fran. Maybe even land a job at Craftsman and Wolves (ha, in my dreams).

    But I'm also heartbroken about your kitchen (and also the long distance thing - been there, done that, it sucks balls). It's so gorgeous and beautiful and you've barely been able to enjoy it. Hell, if you did this in a few years, I'd jump at the chance to move to Portland and rent your insanely gorgeous house. Would that be weird? Maybe.

    Anyways, congrats on having the courage to make such a massive change in your life! It'll be a crazy new adventure for you!

  22. Yay! Can't wait to hang out in SF! See you soon!!!

  23. Katrina — I know. I KNOW. I'm freaking out. It is such short notice!

  24. Aha! I pulsed 3/4 and it was so wet and not enough for my pie tin. I guess that's the reason why. Should have read the comments first! Thanks for posting, I kept overthinking what I did wrong!

  25. i was looking to see if you had a favorite macaron recipe and stumbled upon your adventure in NYC. if you ever get to go to Paris, you have to try the Pierre Herme macarons. I like them even better than Laduree. French macarons are one of my favorite treats of all time. It is time consuming to make, so it's worth every penny. I saw in your more recent blog that you are moving to SF! Congrats! Exciting times for you! I live here (south bay), so would recommend you try the macarons at Chantal Guillon in SF and PA. Cheers!

  26. Just bought spelt and started to use it. Fell in love with this flour! Will try to cook this cookies probably today.


Latest Instagrams

© hummingbird high || a desserts and baking blog. website privacy policy. Design by FCD.