As promised, here is the rhubarb pie cake I adapted from an apple pie cake in Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook. I am working on making my first wedding cake for a friend this fall (more on that another time) and when I did a taste test for Eli’s wedding cake, he said that the apple pie cake was the best cake he had ever had in his life! It will definitely be one of his wedding cake flavors, but with rhubarb in season, I had to try a variation on the recipe. The brown butter cake tastes awesome with my tart rhubarb sauce and strawberry cheesecake filling. I’m not going to lie, Tosi’s cake recipes are long and seem very complicated, BUT don’t run away! Every element of the cake can be made at least 1 week in advance, and none of the recipes needed for the cake are difficult. So, my advice is to take your time! I generally will make 1 or 2 elements of the cake every night over the course of a few days, so I don’t get overwhelmed by all the steps (and clean up!!!). The best part of her cakes is that they need to be frozen, before they are served- so it ends up being the ideal for a party or in my case, a wedding. Make the cake up to a month ahead of time (wrap it well!), and just pop it out of the freezer the night before to thaw (please thaw in the fridge, thawing a cake on the counter can make a cake soggy, thawing in the fridge allows the moisture from freezing to slowly be absorbed by the cake, making it moist). You might notice that your final cake doesn’t look like the one I made, that’s because Tosi’s cakes are “naked cakes,” meaning there is no frosting on the outside of the cake. I covered mine in frosting and fondant, because I need to practice for the wedding cake. If you are interested, I will link some videos for the fondant recipe and technique I used at the end of the recipe. *All adaptions from Tosi’s recipe will be in italics*
Makes 1, 6-inch cake. You can also double the recipe to make an 8-inch cake.
1 (6-inch or 8-inch) cake ring
2 strips of acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long (for a 6-inch)
Barely Brown Butter Cake
*Note: There is a ton of liquid and fat in this cake. If you do not follow the mixing instructions precisely, making sure that the batter is fully incorporated at each step, your cake can overflow out of the pan as it bakes- you have been warned!
3 Tbsp. softened butter
3 Tbsp. brown butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
½ cup buttermilk
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
2 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Heat oven to 350°
Combine the butters and sugars in a large bowl and cream for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix for another 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl again.
Whisk the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla together and then slowly stream the mixture into the bowl while mixing at a low speed. Increase the speed to medium high and mix for 5-6 minutes, until the mixture is very light in color, and twice the size of your original creamed butter sugar mixture. The batter should be completely incorporated at this point (no streaks, or separation/unincorporation), If it doesn’t look right after 6 minutes, keep mixing! Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Whisk together the cake the flour, baking powder, and salt. On a very low speed, add the flour mixture and mix for 45-60 seconds- just until you batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for another 45 seconds to ensure any pockets of dry flour have been incorporated.
Pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment. Spread the cake batter in an even layer and bake for 30-35 minutes.
Take the cake out of the oven and run a butter knife around the edge of the cake so it doesn’t stick as it cools-Cool completely. The cool cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic for up to 5 days.
Strawberry Milk Soak
¼ cup good quality strawberry milk
¼ tsp vanilla
Rhubarb “Pie” Filling -this recipe will provide left-overs!
1.5 lb. rhubarb
1 cup brown sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2-3 tsp. vanilla bean paste
Rinse and trim the rhubarb. Split them lengthwise before cutting them into small chunks. Put the rhubarb into a large pot, add the brown sugar and turn the heat to medium low. Put a lid on the pot and cook the mixture, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb has released some of its liquid and is starting to break down- stir occasionally. Remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium, cook until the rhubarb is completely broken down and reduced into a thick sauce, stirring frequently- about 15 more minutes. Take pot off the heat once the sauce is thick enough and stir in the vanilla (2-3 tsp. to your taste, I like a lot of vanilla!) and the optional lemon zest. Let cool.
¾ cups flour
1 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. melted butter
2 ¼ tsp. water
Heat the oven to 350°
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt and whisk. Add the melted butter and water and mix until it comes together in small clusters. Spread the clusters on a parchment lined pan. Bake for 25 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should be golden brown and still slightly moist to the touch-they will dry and harden as they cool.
Let the crumbs cool completely before using. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the freezer.
Liquid (Strawberry) Cheesecake
8 oz. Cream cheese, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
½ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. good quality strawberry milk
2-3 tsp. freeze dried strawberries crushed into powder (use to taste)
Heat oven to 300°
Mix cream cheese on a low speed for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the sugar and mix for 1-2 minutes, until the sugar has been completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Whisk together the cornstarch, freeze dried strawberries and salt. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream, then whisk in the egg until the slurry is homogeneous.
Pour the egg mixture into the cream cheese and mix for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and loose.
Spray a bit of Pam into a 6 X 6 baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. Gently shake the pan. The cheesecake should be firmer and more set toward the outer edges, but still be jiggly and loose in the center. If the cheesecake is still jiggly all over, give it 5 more minutes, check, and then five minutes more (if needed)-but it should never take more than 25 minutes. Cool completely, the cheesecake will look like a cheesecake, but be loose enough to spread as a filling into the cake. You can keep this in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Pie Crumb Frosting I used elements of two of Tosi’s frosting recipes to get a smoother more spreadable frosting, because I needed to frost the outside of the cake. I combined elements of her original pie crumb frosting (which is very thick and hard to spread) and her birthday cake frosting. If you decide to frost the whole outside of the cake, double or triple this recipe (depending on the size of your cake).
¼ cup pie crumb
Strawberry milk (enough to blend the crumbs into a paste, 2-4 tbsp.)
¼ tsp. kosher salt
4 tbsp. softened butter
1/8 cup vegetable shortening
½ tbsp. glucose (you can sub 1 tsp. corn syrup for the glucose if you don’t have it)
½ tbsp. corn syrup
½ tbsp. vanilla
½ cup + 2 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of baking powder
Pinch of citric acid (or a small squeeze of lemon juice)
Pink food coloring (optional)
Put the pie crumb, salt and milk in a blender (start with 2 tbsp. of milk and add more as needed). Puree until smooth and thick.
Combine the butter, shortening, and 1-3 tbsp. of the pie crumb paste and cream together on medium high for 3 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the glucose, corn syrup and vanilla and beat on medium-high for 3 minutes until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the confectioners’ sugar, baking powder, and citric acid and mix on low to incorporate. Then crank up the speed and beat for 3 minutes, until you have a beautifully smooth frosting. Add food coloring and beat until its well mixed and uniform. *the food coloring is optional, but I found the frosting to be an unappealing color without it, because of the pinkish brown pie crust paste. The frosting can be stored in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week. Bring back to room temp and beat until fluffy and smooth before use.
- Put a piece of parchment on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of your cake.
- Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring
- Put the cake scraps inside the ring and use your hand to tamp (press down) the scraps together into a flat even layer.
- Dunk a pastry brush into the strawberry milk soak and give the layer of cake a good soak.
- Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the liquid cheesecake in an even layer over the cake.
- Sprinkle 1/3 of the remaining pie crumbs evenly over the liquid cheesecake. Use your hand to anchor them in place.
- Use the back of the spoon to spread a layer of rhubarb filling over the crumbs.
- With your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5-6 inches tall- high enough to support the height of the finished cake. Set a cake round on top of the filling and repeat the layering process.
- Nestle the last remaining cake round onto the filling. Cover the top of the cake with the frosting.
- Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours. At this point, if you would like to freeze the cake for a later use, peel off the cake ring and acetate, and wrap the cake tightly in 2 layers of cellophane and 1 layer of tin foil.
- At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the cake from the freezer, peel off the acetate (if you haven’t already) and transfer cake to a platter, Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (it can be left in the fridge, tightly wrapped for up to 5 days).