Here's a recipe not for the faint of heart. It's an over-the-top, 1950s-era recipe that I dug out of my grandmother's collection. This confection combines yellow cake, rhubarb, strawberry jello, and marshmallows. If you aren't afraid of that last sentence, then pull up a chair and join me for a slice of "big pink."
Much of mid-century American cooking was about convenience and mechanization. Reading through cookbooks and recipe pamphlets from this time, I'm always struck by the amount of semi-homemade mixes, processed foods, canned goods, and such are listed as ingredients. In our current culinary era, where freshness and whole foods dominate the food literature landscape, you'd be hard-pressed to find pudding mix incorporated into any "farm-to-table" experience.
But there's certainly a time and place for all types of food, be it from a backyard garden or a cardboard box. This is an instance where we utilize both schools of thought.
This rhubarb cake is a show-stopper. Its electric pink sweet-sour rhubarb and strawberry Jello layer sets off the richness of the yellow cake beautifully. There's a certain yin and yang about the whole thing, and the marshmallows add a toothsome chew. If you are a texture person, you're going to want to get at a corner of this cake. It's flavor country over there with the chew of the cakey layer and the crunch of the candy-like strawberry layer. Each slice can be tempered with a little crème fraîche or ice cream, but it's hardly necessary.
Big Pink Rhubarb Cake
For the yellow cake:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
4 yolks from large eggs, beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the rhubarb layer:
3 cups sliced rhubarb, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 package strawberry Jello
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream (for optional garnish)
Grease and flour a 9x13-inch pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. First make the yellow cake batter. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg yolks, milk, and vanilla until fully mixed. Finally add flour, baking powder, and salt to the mixing bowl and mix until fully combined. Set aside.
Evenly distribute the rhubarb on the bottom of the greased baking pan. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup sugar and contents of the strawberry Jello package onto the rhubarb. Layer the marshmallows on top of the rhubarb as evenly as possible. Lastly, pour the cake batter over all the ingredients. It's okay if a few marshmallows poke through; it will be a thin layer of batter.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the cake is set. Cool completely and sift the powdered sugar through a strainer to dust the top of the cake. Serve with crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream.
(Image credits: Leela Cyd)