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Ruby needs a sweet talker 

Spring means the arrival of green things, like asparagus and peas and leeks, but it also means the debut of Miss Scarlet, aka rhubarb. Her ruby-red stalks are too sour to be eaten alone - and please, don't eat them raw. The gentle sweetness of strawberries mellows out the rhub's tart swipe, yet allows room to express her individuality. The logistics of this pairing, however, are not as seamless; when rhubarb is in season, which is right about now, local strawberries are not ready for the picking. Conversely, when local strawberries bear fruit, rhubarb has already kissed us goodbye. But don't let that stop you.

You'll need just two hours to make this homey upside-down cake, which always elicits "ooh-ahh's." When inverted, the cake is so pretty, even if you thought you screwed up arranging those strawberries at the outset.

Think of this one for early spring rituals — a first kiss, an Easter feast or perhaps a salute to Mom.

Upside-Down Strawberry-Rhubarb Cake

Topping:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1 pint strawberries, stemmed and halved
2-3 cups rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
Cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blanch (quick boil, followed by ice bath) rhubarb for 1 minute or so. Don't overcook or you will end up with mush. Drain and set aside. Melt butter in saucepan. Add brown sugar and stir until smooth and dissolved, about 1 minute. Spread mixture evenly over bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Scatter almonds on top. Strawberries go over almonds in concentric circles, cut-side up. Top with rhubarb and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine vanilla with milk. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time and mix until incorporated. Alternate dry ingredients with vanilla milk, beginning and ending with dry. Mix until just combined; be mindful not to over-beat the batter. Spread batter evenly over topping. Bake until cake springs when touched, about 1 hour, or by inserting a skewer in center until it comes out clean. Remove cake from oven and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes. Invert onto a plate.

Culinary questions? Reach CL's Kitchen Witch at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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