Over the past several weeks, it seemed some culinary stars were aligning in my life (or at least that’s how I interpreted a few food coincidences). First, vibrant stalks of rhubarb started to appear at the market: an elusive and exciting annual moment. Second, a single banana sat ripening in my fruit bowl, and I began to daydream of new ways to use it. Third, I’d just tested numerous versions of my new bread pudding recipe, which ultimately left me quite satisfied—but also craving something far less laden with cream and eggs.
Eager to embrace rhubarb season, I came home with several batches. While cooking (and liberally sampling) my first bundle for a favorite party dessert, it dawned on me that rhubarb might pair nicely with ginger: refreshing brightness alongside fragrant warmth. I also pictured different sweet fruits that could match nicely with the rhubarb, and wondered if the blackening banana on my counter could fit the bill. Then I remembered how mashed banana can replace eggs in baking, holding together the batter while diffusing its tropical taste — and this recollection heightened my hunger for a light, new dessert.
As I experimented with rhubarb, banana and ginger, I found myself reaching for another favorite ingredient: fresh orange — as its citrusy tang could echo and balance the tartness of the rhubarb. The result was not only a flavorful, ultra-moist, vegan dessert; it also turned out to be stunning, with a blanket of brilliant pink rhubarb draped over its top (and decadent caramely edges, too!).
Vegan Rhubarb Banana Skillet Cake (serves 8-10)
- 1 pound fresh rhubarb [preferably the deepest pink in color you can find, both inside and out of the stalks (this is purely for aesthetic reasons; pinker rhubarb yields a prettier cake)]
- 2/3 cup + 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 medium/large extremely ripe banana (1/3 – 1/2 cup mashed)
- 1 medium orange
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger root**
- 2 teaspoons powdered ginger
- 1.25 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 10″ ovenproof skillet, such as cast iron
Rinse rhubarb; trim and discard tough ends. Slice stalks in half, once crosswise, and then once lengthwise unless they are already very thin. If needed, trim further to fit across pan. Coat the interior (both bottom and sides) of skillet with 1 tablespoon oil. Place rhubarb in skillet in a single parallel pile, then top with 1/4 cup brown sugar, spreading sugar to even it out a bit. Place pan over medium-low heat and cover with lid. Cook 5 minutes, remove lid, and use heatproof tongs to rotate top and bottom layers of rhubarb. (Pull the soft rhubarb up to the top and move the still-firm layer to bottom.) Cover with lid 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, then measure it: you need between a heaping 1/3 cup and a scant 1/2 cup mashed banana (if yours yields much more than this, be sure to use no more than a scant 1/2 cup). Rinse and finely zest the orange; set zest aside. Juice the orange and measure out 1/4 cup juice, with any seeds discarded. Set aside. Peel and grate a piece of fresh ginger root (see note below), measuring out 2 teaspoons grated ginger; set aside. Heat a kettle of water.
In a large bowl, beat 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup vegetable oil. Add the vanilla, the mashed banana, and the grated ginger. Mix well. Sift over the mixture: powdered ginger, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Begin to mix (batter will be thick), gradually adding the 1/4 cup orange juice and the boiling water. Beat well, scraping sides and bottom of bowl with spatula. Finally, fold in the orange zest until evenly distributed. Just before pouring batter into the skillet, gently rearrange rhubarb, pulling it to edges of the pan to ensure the bottom of the cake is completely covered in a single layer of rhubarb with no blank spaces. Slowly pour batter over rhubarb and place skillet in oven.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out batter-free (a few moist crumbs are OK). Remove from oven, being careful not to touch hot skillet handle unprotected. Let sit at least 30-45 minutes or until pan is cool enough to grasp. Just when ready to serve, loosen edges of cake with a knife, and invert onto a plate. If cake has completely cooled or is the least bit stubborn about coming out of pan, place over medium heat on stovetop for 60 seconds before flipping. The cake is best served right away, but feel free to store it covered and refrigerated, eating within 24 hours.
Bright-tasting and beautiful, this is a truly uplifting spring dessert. The creamy-sweet banana tames the tartness of the rhubarb, while the double dose of ginger offers a welcome warmth to the otherwise cool notes. With its luxuriously moist crumb, this citrus-speckled cake delivers a complex harmony of texture and flavor. All in all, it not only leaves you feeling satisfied and light, but also celebrates springtime in every bite.
Maybe next time… This tasty vegan banana cake batter would work well in many other formats, whether trading the rhubarb for a different fruit or berry, and/or trying a more traditional (non-skillet) version — even in cupcake form (just be sure to adjust the baking time accordingly). The orange can be traded for lemon or lime, just as the ginger can be swapped for powdered cinnamon or cardamom. A handful of chocolate chips might be really nice in this cake; be sure to choose dairy-free chocolate to keep the cake vegan.
**Grating fresh ginger root can be tricky, and if you feel like it’s too much trouble, feel free to skip it all together, adding a bit more powdered ginger if you want all the flavor without the fuss. For easy grating, it can help to freeze your ginger root so that it’s extra firm. I like to use a sharp, fine micoplane grater, and I begin by cutting my ginger into a rectangular box shape (this eliminates having to peel it, too). Holding one end of the ginger rectangle, firmly push the other end — going against the fibrous grains of ginger — into the grater and drag it along quickly. Once grated, the ginger may be a bit liquidy, which works fine.