In Michigan it's the season for cheap/free produce, as the Rhubarb explodes out of everyone's garden until it overflows all the freezers and jams and pies their owners can handle. One of my best friends and her family just inherited a massive overgrown garden with their new house, and they are loving the surprises popping up this spring. She has giant bush-like rhubarb plants producing enough to fill three freezers, so she graciously bestowed a pile on me just as I was racking my brain for something to make for our office's annual cake-off. In a Michigan summer twist (not that I'm claiming rhubarb is specific to Michigan) I made strawberry-rhubarb upside-down cake. Yes, I cheated by using a box cake instead of scratch, but that's the problem with baking projects on a weeknight. Between the baking and the digging (since I got some Raspberry canes to plant along with the gift of Rhubarb) I was up until midnight. I jittered myself up with coffee and ended up in a three-way tie for first place at the Cake-Off the next morning. I didn't use any of my own votes (you pay 25 cents for each slice and vote), but I'm wondering if it really would have felt like an empty victory if I had :-)
Strawberry Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake (aka Spring Flip):
1 box french vanilla cake mix (Supermoist or pudding cake mix)
Ingredients to prepare cake mix per directions on box (typically 3 eggs, oil and water)
2 cups chopped fresh rhubarb (½ inch to 1 inch pieces). The Rhubarb doesn’t need to be completely peeled, but it helps to strip off any tough or stringy skin you might find on older/larger pieces.
2 cups plus ½ cup sliced fresh sweet strawberries
1 cup (packed) light brown cane sugar
1/3 cup butter
9x12 glass baking dish with at least 2” high sides (an extra inch or two higher is even better)
Optional variations: you can include one or more of the following if you’d like, or come up with your own variation. (If adding more fresh fruit or liquid, be sure to balance it by adding dry ingredients such as flour and sugar):
- ½-1 cup pecan halves or pieces
- cinnamon or nutmeg (to taste)
- ½ - ¼ cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350
Put butter in glass pan in oven to melt (careful not to let it scorch)
Prepare cake batter per directions on box, subtracting 2 Tablespoons of water from the ingredients called for and adding ½ cup sliced strawberries. Beat the strawberries into the mix well so that they break up and distribute evenly.
When the butter has melted in the dish remove it from the oven. Make sure the butter has coated the bottom of the dish evenly.
Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter at the bottom of the baking dish
Layer 2 cups of strawberries on the brown sugar
Sprinkle 2 cups chopped rhubarb over the strawberries
Sprinkle any optional ingredients over the rhubarb
Press ingredients gently down into the brown sugar
Pour the cake batter over the layers in the baking dish (there might be some left after the dish is full. You can make a cupcake or two, or discard)
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes
If the cake is firm down to the fruit and doesn't "jiggle" with movement, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, skip to the next step. If it isn't done yet, run a butter knife around the edge of the dish to separate the cake from the sides. This allows moisture to escape so that the fruit cooks down properly. Reduce oven to 325 and bake an additional 20-40 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven until fruit is bubbling up the sides, the cake is firm without “jiggling” when you move it, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Place a cookie sheet or heatproof serving tray over the top of the baking dish.
Holding the cookie sheet or tray firmly against the baking dish, flip them both over so that the dish and cake are resting upside down on the tray.
Let sit without removing the dish for at least 30 minutes to allow all the fruit to drop and the cake to keep the shape while cooling.
Serve warm or room temperature with ice cream or whip cream.