I’m always eager to embrace rhubarb season: an elusive and exciting annual moment. This year, it coincided with a single banana ripening in my fruit bowl, as well as a craving for a light but satisfying spring dessert.
Depending on the recipe, mashed banana can replace part of the role of eggs in baking, holding together the batter while diffusing its tropical taste – and I knew its creamy-sweet qualities would balance nicely with tangy rhubarb. I decided on a one-bowl, tender upside-down cake that would flaunt the stalks and offer a pleasant complexity to the palate.
For a burst of warmth alongside the otherwise cool flavors, I reached for a double dose of ginger, which proved to be a marvelous match. Orange zest and juice also added to the cake’s brightness and tangy-sweet notes.
The result is not only a flavorful, ultra-moist dessert that’s free of eggs and dairy; it also turns out to be stunning, with a blanket of brilliant pink rhubarb draped over its top (and decadent caramely edges, too!).
Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (serves 8-10)
1 pound fresh rhubarb stalks (see note)
2/3 cup + 1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium very ripe banana (see note)
1 medium orange
1.5 ounces fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons powdered ginger
1.25 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup boiling water
Rinse rhubarb; trim and discard tough ends. Slice stalks in half once crosswise, and then once lengthwise (unless they are already very narrow). Set aside.
Using 1 tablespoon oil, thoroughly coat the interior of a 9 to 10 inch ovenproof skillet such as cast iron. Place rhubarb in skillet in a single parallel pile, trimming ends to make it fit if needed. Top rhubarb with 1/4 cup brown sugar.
Place pan over medium-low heat and cover with lid. Cook 5 minutes, remove lid, and use heatproof tongs to gently rotate top and bottom layers of rhubarb. Cover and cook another 5 minutes. Rhubarb should be very soft and juicy. Remove lid, remove pan from heat, and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Peel the banana and mash it well with a fork until no longer lumpy. Measure the mashed banana; it should yield 1/3 to 1/2 cup. (If yours yields more than this, set aside extra and use for another purpose. If less, add a bit more oil to make at least 1/3 cup total.)
Rinse, dry, and finely zest the orange; set zest aside. Juice the orange and measure out 1/4 cup juice, discarding any seeds. Set juice aside. Peel and finely grate a piece of fresh ginger root (see note); then measure out 2 teaspoons grated ginger. Heat a kettle of water.
In a large bowl, beat 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Add the vanilla, mashed banana, and grated ginger. Mix well. Sift over the mixture: powdered ginger, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Begin to mix (batter will be thick), alternately adding the 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/2…