I used to grumble a lot about this practice, as I had fallen into a routine in the U.S. of treating Sundays as "errand days" when I would do my shopping for the week, and generally just get stuff done. I still get annoyed sometimes when I can't just run out to the grocery store and pick up eggs or milk, or whatever I might be missing, whenever I might need it (we're so spoiled by convenience!), but it's part of my life now, and there are actually some benefits to forced relaxation...
Luckily, I had everything I needed this morning to bake cake. Because the weather was so rotten and I had no desire to leave the house, I invited a group of friends over for Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake), a very-appropriate Sunday afternoon activity in Germany. As part of their forced relaxation, Germans have developed a very pleasant Sunday afternoon tradition* of Kaffee und Kuchen. My favorite version of Kaffee und Kuchen involves, first, an outing somewhere to enjoy the fresh air - usually a long walk through the mountains or woods, or maybe a boat ride on a lake, followed by a leisurely Kaffee und Kuchen at a Gasthaus somewhere nearby. But I also love to bake cakes, so it works out pretty well to have friends over every now and then for homemade cake.
Today, I made a rhubarb coffee cake (above photo- left), a lemon layer cake with vanilla buttercream frosting (above photo- center), and my Italian friend Miriam brought a custard tart with fresh fruit (above photo- right). Rhubarb cake actually has special significance for me, because my late grandmother was an avid rhubarb gardener and rhubarb baker (I'm not kidding - she had a special relationship with rhubarb). She was gathering rhubarb recipes to create a cookbook entirely themed around rhubarb, and I remember whenever I would move to a new country, she would always ask me to be on the lookout for new uses for rhubarb. My grandparents had such a surplus of rhubarb in their garden, that my grandpa even began making rhubarb wine.
I wish she was still here; she would certainly have approved of this rhubarb cake, and I would love to have been able to invite her over for a leisurely Sunday afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen.
* I thought this coffee and cake tradition was mostly reserved for Sundays (because otherwise wouldn't all Germans be obese??), but my brother told me that when he did a high school exchange here (in 1997! I can't believe we're that old now), his host mom used to serve cake pretty much everyday after school. In which case, I guess it's more like the British tradition of high tea, and can extend beyond Sundays.
Rhubarb Coffee Cake
from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen
This cake is not specifically a German recipe, but I think it is similar to other cakes I have had in Germany, which tend to be a combination of coffee cake-style base + fruit + streusel. In general, I would say that many German cakes have a tendency to be less sweet, and a bit drier, than American cakes. I think this rhubarb cake appeals perfectly to both American and German tastes though- the amount of sweetness is just right, and the moist crumb is perfect. Therefore, I officially endorse it for cross-cultural "Kaffee und Kuchen" gatherings.
1 1/4 pound (565 grams) rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch lengths on the diagonal
1 1/3 cup (265 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 large eggs
1 1/3 cups (165 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 cup (80 grams) sour cream
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 ounces, or 55 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1. Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.
2. Butter and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan (or whatever size you have!)
3. Stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and 2/3 cup sugar and set aside.
4. Beat butter, remaining sugar and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
5. Add eggs, one at at time, scraping down the sides after each addition.
6. Whisk together flour, baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon table salt and ground ginger together in a small bowl.
7. Add one-third of flour mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Continue, adding half the sour cream, the second third of the flour mixture, the remaining sour cream, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.
8. Spread all of the cake batter into an even layer in baking pan. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the cake batter, spreading it into an even layer (most pieces should fit in a tight, single layer).
9. Stir together the crumb mixture, first whisking the flour, brown sugar, table salt and cinnamon together, then stirring in the melted butter with a spoon or fork.
10. Scatter the crumb mixture over rhubarb layer.
11. Bake cake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes. The cake is done when a tester comes out free of the wet cake batter below. It will be golden on top.
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