Butterscotch Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake



Who doesn’t love rhubarb? But at this time of the year it’s no-longer the delicate coral-pink, slender stems of the spring. Now we have big, hulking, batons of green to contend with. The mature stems are sometimes quite harsh in flavour, which means one has to find cunning ways to bring out the best while toning down the worst.

This cake is real treat, even if you’re not overly-fond of rhubarb (have already converted a rhubarb-hating neighbour through the power of this cake). The flavour is definitely not pronounced, but is more of a murmer in terms of keeping the butterscotch from being too tooth-achingly sweet. The melted butter and brown sugar tend to congregate on the edges of the cake, giving a wonderful toffee richness, and as seasoned Lardy Cake afficionadoes will agree, the corner pieces are the best of all.

I found this recipe in an old book of curated Amish recipes¹, and it was originally submitted by a Mrs Toby Yoder from Virginia. I like hunting for Amish recipes, because I imagine them as being pure and free from additives and peservatives but sadly, the result frequently fails to live up to expectations. I start out picturing myself being Kelly McGillis in Witness, baking up treats for Harrison Ford at the next barn-raising, and then I find ingredient lists full of ready-made crusts, packets of this and tins of that and it’s all very disappointing.

Enter this upside-down cake.

It is just the thing for enjoying as a pudding or alongside a cup of coffee and nary a packet in sight, just wholesome *quickly glosses over all the sugar and butter* natural ingredients. The cake pan is generously buttered and covered with an equally generous layer of soft, brown sugar. Slices of rhubarb are nestled into this mix – artistically if you like. I certainly likey, and was happy to Faff About™ arranging the slices, because I absolutely didn’t have anything else I should be doing, and certainly not that giant pile of ironing in the corner. With the best will in the world, the cooked rhubarb – although delicious – is no oil painting, so spending  a little time at this stage will reap rewards later. You want to leave enough space between the sticks to allow the cake batter to come through, but not so much that the rhubarb ends up in a little hole as it shrinks during baking. See photo below.


The vanilla-flavoured cake mix is poured over the top and it is baked in a mere 40 minutes. When turned out, the rhubarb is delicately cooked and has been basted with the butter/sugar mixture to tone down the acidity. Likewise, the butterscotch mixture, which mixes with the rhubarb juice and soaks down into the sponge, is not as sweet as one might imagine.

The cake part is also a delight – incredibly light and delicate – and worryingly moreish. The delicate nature means a little care is required when turning out, to ensure the cake itself doesn’t start to crack.


Arrangement of rhubarb stalks for the upside down cake.

Butterscotch Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

400g (2-3 sticks) rhubarb
50g softened salted butter
100g soft brown sugar

150g unsalted butter, softened
135g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
170g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
100ml whole milk

  • Grease and line a 22-ish cm square tin with baking parchment.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Use the 50g of butter to spread a layer over the bottom of the tin only.
  • Sprinkle the soft brown sugar over the butter.
  • Wash the rhubarb and pat dry.
  • Slice the rhubarb into 3cm slices and arrange onto the brown sugar.
  • Cream the 150g butter, caster sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy,
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one. If the mixture looks a little curdled, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on a lower speed until fully incorporated.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.
  • Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, until fully combined.
  • Spoon cake mixture onto the rhubarb, taking care not to dislodge your artistic endeavours.
  • Smooth over the top and bake for 40 minutes, turning the tin around after 20 minutes.
  • Use a cocktail stick or similar to check the cake is fully baked before removing from the oven.
  • Allow to stand for 10 minutes before CAREFULLY turning out. I placed a sheet of parchment over the top, then a chopping board, and carefully turned the whole tin over.
  • Remove the tin and the parchment covering the rhubarb.
  • Any excess syrup can be brushed over the rhubarb with a pastry brush.
  • Enjoy warm as a pudding or at room temperature as a cake.

¹ “Plain cooking; low-cost, good-tasting Amish recipes” by Bill Randle, 1974, Quadrangle, New York, p156.