Recipe: Spring Rhubarb Coffee Cake

When we were kids, we chewed on rhubarb stalks like they were candy. The tart bite was the closest we'd be getting to sour gummies all summer. Today, our son, Crowe, already knows at 22 months how to snap a stalk and break off the leaf (which is poisonous, in case you didn't know). I think chewing on rhubarb soothes his mouth as teeth continue to come in, but it also seem he — like his parents — finds something irresistible about the taste. 

Rhubarb that actually makes it all the way from the garden to the kitchen gets turned into upside down cake, sauce for pancakes and yogurt, and jam. The easiest recipe to execute for a quick breakfast treat, though, also dates from when Ben and I stood in the rhubarb patch as pre-teens gathering a snack. 

Treetops, the summer camp we both went to, is a sustainable working farm that prioritizes real food. Campers don't have access to candy, and sugar is controlled to a sweet every few days. This coffee cake was always something I hoped for, and I learned how to make it from the chef, Paulette Peduzzi, when I worked as a kitchen assistant the summer after high school. 

The best part of this recipe is that it is adaptable. You can scale it up or halve it with great success, and you can substitute in whatever you have around. I didn't have sour cream when I made this batch, so I used apple sauce instead. We were out of brown sugar, so I skipped the topping. In the past, I've also substituted in other fruit and used many different kinds of flour, all with great success. It's a workhorse of a recipe that can be mixed in one bowl, as any gardener with produce to use up will appreciate.

Here is the recipe as shared in the Treetops cookbook, with a typed up version below:  

Rhubarb Coffee Cake (9x13 Pan, approx. 12 servings)

  • 1/2 cup butter (very soft)
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream (or apple sauce)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups finely chopped rhubarb (1/4-inch chunks)


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tbsp flour 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp butter (very soft) 


  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer or the back of a wooden spoon. 
  3. Mix in eggs one at a time until combined
  4. Mix in sour cream and vanilla until combined
  5. Add flour and baking soda, and fold together until there are no streaks of flour. 
  6. Stir in rhubarb
  7. Pour batter into greased 9x13" pan 
  8. Topping: Mix all topping ingredients together until crumbly and sprinkle over top 
  9. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until done.
*Reduce baking time to 20 minutes and use a 9x4" loaf pan for a half recipe.
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