Summer is short in Finland; especially for me coming from the sub-tropics where Summer lasts about seven months. It’s so short you can miss it – especially if you nip off to Spain for a week and return with the forests no longer eye-blindingly green, but breathtakingly golden.
But while it’s short, it’s nothing if not miraculous.
The daily growth is visible. The local birch grove, opposite the apartment, sporting tiny unfurling bright green buds on Monday would be thick with leaves by Wednesday. 24 hours of life-giving sunlight is absorbed by everything and everyone that can get beneath the rays.
On the bank of the lake at the family’s summerhouse one thing that really flourishes in the constant light is rhubarb. Smaller and paler than the robust red stems I’m used to, but bursting with flavour.
For me rhubarb is all about warm deserts in winter; crumbles and compotes. But in Finland it’s all about ice cream, cakes, juice, cider and the bracingly sharp taste of summer.
This cake is perfect alongside a pot of tea in the afternoon sun (if you’re in my hemisphere), or to round out a picnic lunch and washed down with a pint of frosty apple cider (if you’re lucky enough to be sunning yourself in a northern summer).
I’ve just planted some rhubarb crowns in the garden which have burst into life – our short cool Springs, their cool short Summers; it’s enough to make a fella homesick.
Rhubarb and Custard Tea Cake.
This is a spin on a classic tea cake. By all means if you have a recipe you love, use that one and just dress it up with the additions of the rhubarb and custard.
70g butter, softened
1/2 cup golden caster sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups of plain flour, sifted
2 teaspoons of baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup of almond meal
3/4 cup milk
2-3 large Rhubarb stems chopped
2 tablespoons of golden caster sugar
Start by preparing the custard and rhubarb.
Wash the rhubarb and leave it wet. Chop into 2cm pieces and place into a saucepan with the sugar. Cook over a low to medium heat until the rhubarb collapses. Put aside and allow to cool.
6 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup of caster sugar
This is the same basic custard used in the Danish Pastry recipe – a good go to basic.
Scald milk and vanilla in a saucepan. Beat egg yolks, sugar and corn flour together in a bowl until well combined and ribbony-thick. Pour in hot milk and whisk until smooth. Return mixture to the wiped out saucepan and gradually heat until it has thickened and come to a boil. Beat for 1 minute and then pour into a bowl. To prevent a skin forming cover with cling film and press down to touch the custard. Allow to cool.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm loaf tin with baking paper. Leave some of the baking paper exposed. (This is a delicate cake and it helps to lift if out of the tin after baking).
In the mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg and beat well until combined. Add vanilla and mix well.
Combine flour, almond meal, salt and baking powder.
Note: If your mixer has a slow hand-mixing action then by all means gradually add the flour and milk to the bowl alternately until just combined, or gently fold in the flour mix and milk by hand.
Scrape half the cake batter into the loaf tin. Place spoonfuls of custard in a line down the centre of the mixture. Dot with some of the rhubarb and cover with remaining batter.
Spoon the remaining custard and rhubarb over the top of the cake batter in a rough line down the centre.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Stand cake in pan for around 10-15 minutes. Using the baking paper, gently lift the cake and cool on a wire rack. (Any left-over rhubarb makes for a great topping on yoghurt or rolled oats the next day).
While cake is still warm, brush top with a little melted butter to give the cake a gentle shine.
Enjoy in the sun, by a lake, on a rug, with a friend.