Recipes evolve and devolve, then evolve again. This rhubarb cake is based very firmly on the orange and almond cake of Claudia Roden, a cake that appeared on cafe menus across the globe when A Book of Middle Eastern Food appeared in 1968, to be updated in 1985, and reprinted umpteen times. It remains as important now as it was almost 50 years ago.
That cake (our chef, Lesley Russell’s Thermomix version appeared in our summer/autumn 2016 edition) was based on oranges being cooked holus-bolus until they turned into pulp, then blended with eggs, sugar and ground almonds. Wrote Ms Roden of her famous cake, whose provenance pre-Roden remains unknown: “This is a very moist cake which may serve as a dessert.”
Those were the days: no hyperbole in the art of cookbook writing when Roden and Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David and James Beard and Alice Waters were shining the light for future generations.
In my restaurant days, from the early ‘80s to the mid-’90s, the Roden cake made many appearances “as a dessert”, accompanied by an orange and Grand Marnier syrup and lashings of cream. Its popularity was not just about its flavour and texture, but also its keeping quality: no matter how long it sat in the fridge it remained as fresh as its first day out of the pan.
It was also in those days that we experimented often—in this case, exchanging the pulp of the orange with the pulp of the rhubarb to create a rhubarb and almond cake which also “may serve as a dessert”. Yolaine Corbin has evolved the original recipe even further, adding a little cornflour to add stablility to what is a very moist cake.