One of the fun things about baking is that once you learn about proportions and how acids like buttermilk react with bases like baking soda and similar 'chemistry' you can enjoy experimentation.
Sometimes I mull over ideas for days before coming up with something that seems likely to work and to make good use of the seasonal ingredient I have on hand or the flavor I've been longing to taste. This time I had both fresh rhubarb and juicy strawberries ready to be combined (don't you just love that flavor combo?) and I wanted to capture the copious juice they would make when heated. I considered a compote and a fruit fool, but wanted something warm. Eventually it seemed that if I combined a layer of cake to act as a sponge and soak up those juices, plus a topping over the fruit that it would be just what I wanted.
For a lark I took the brown sugar buttermilk cake recipe I had used for shortcake and changed it a bit, used the cake as a base for a mixture of cooked rhubarb and strawberries and then used part of the batter to create a crisp topping. It was a fab experiment!
Sweetie and Straight Shooter razzed me before dinner about the buttermilk sitting on top of the microwave. They were convinced it would spoil. When they tasted the cake-fruit-crisp combo with some whipped cream on top they knew that the buttermilk was just fine and had helped with moistness and tang in the cake. The juices of the rhubarb-strawberry mixture seeped into the cake below which gave it a great flavor, too. The crispy topping was a great textural contrast. They decided that second helpings were in order.
Keeping track of time for baking is essential with this recipe. The cake bakes part of the way without any topping for just 10 minutes to allow the cake structure to develop...along with it's ability to be a sponge for the juices. After topping with the hot fruit and with the oatmeal laced topping it baked another 15 minutes, allowing the cake part to finish baking and for the topping part to get nice and crisp. I added pieces of the soft topping mixture with my fingers for irregular islands of topping on the sea of fruit, but you could also use a spoon to scoop on tablespoon sized pieces.
The same layered technique would work well for other stewed fruits or juicy fruits like stone fruits or other berries, too. Cake-blackberries and peaches-crisp will be the perfect combo around the beginning of July.
(In case you were wondering, the bathroom project is about half done and my 'vacation' is about 2/3 done, but it's going to be beautiful...light and airy and a huge shower! If you just are dying to see photos of Sweetie using a drill or me with a runaway belt sander send me an e-mail and I can send you some photos. Most just look like fairly generic construction photos, but a few give a hint of what the end results will look like.)
If you do make this recipe, even with fruit variations, do let me know. I've never seen one like it exactly and would love to know if it works in your kitchen, too.
Three Layer Fruit Crisp with Rhubarb and Strawberries
Serves 6 – 8
1 deep 9" cake pan or, preferably, a deep skillet
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar, packed, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup diced fresh rhubarb
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulls removed, then sliced
½ cup rolled oats (old-fashioned are best)
Butter a 9 inch round baking pan or skillet with deep sides.You will be baking this on a baking sheet to catch any juice drips. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Whisk together 1 ¼ cup of the flour, the baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add ½ cup of the brown sugar and beat for about 2 minutes, until sugar is completely blended into the butter.
Add one egg and beat for one minute. Scrape sides of bowl and beater. Add the second egg and beat for 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla until incorporated.
Reduce mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk; add the dry ingredients in 3 portions and the buttermilk in two (begin and end with dry ingredients). Mix only until each addition is barely blended in to the batter. Scrape down the bowl and take a few turns with the spatula to finish mixing the batter quickly.
Put the batter in the prepared pan reserving ½ cup of the batter in the mixing bowl . (I put all the batter in the pan, then removed ½ cup and put it back into the mixing bowl, then used a spatula to gently level the batter in the pan.) Place on a baking sheet and put into the preheated oven.
Bake for 10 minutes.
While the cake is baking, stew the fruit. Combine the rhubarb and strawberries in a saucepan. Cover. Place over medium heat and cook about 10 minutes or until the strawberries release their juice and are soft.
While the fruit is cooking, combine the remaining ½ cup cake batter, and additional ½ cup brown sugar and ½ cup rolled oats to make the crisp topping. Batter will be soft.
Once cake has baked for 10 minutes, remove from the oven, top with the hot fruit, and scatter pieces of the topping fairly evenly over the hot fruit. The topping will not completely cover the fruit…there will be lots of fruit showing but the batter will spread out some as it bakes.
Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let cool at least 10 minutes because fruit is very hot and could burn you.
To serve, scoop large spoonfuls of the dessert into bowls, making sure to include cake, fruit and topping. Garnish with heavy cream, vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream. Serve while warm.