Lemon Thyme Cake with Rhubarb

Lemon Thyme Cake with Rhubarb

Image courtesy of Jodi & Kurt Photography

As I sat on the front step of our townhouse at dawn's early light a couple of hours ago, the realization that it's the first day of June hit me hard. The past 31 days seem to have vanished into thin air without a trace and as I glare at my laptop curating a collection of suitable words to describe how I feel about saying "goodbye until next time" to one of my favorite months, I'm left to ponder how it came to be so.

When Spring first began to unfurl her glorious beauty in mid-March and the dead of winter was nothing more than a distant memory, the joy and anticipation of the forthcoming season filled me with pure elation. Yet here we are, on the brink of sticky Summer heat as the last of next door's peonies wilt under the oppressing humidity and my flyaway hair begins to take on a life of its own.

However, rather than dwell on how May 2016 was somewhat disappointing {a record breaking 15 consecutive days of rain here in the nation's capital} I'm choosing to archive a handful of my fondest memories including the arrival of my beautiful nephew, Archie, one or two long awaited home renovations, pizza and Champagne with dear friends until the small hours of the morning and the confirmation of an exciting upcoming opportunity.

As Ramadan fast approaches, along with prospect of my husband and I living somewhat separate lives for thirty long days and nights, I feel a touch less guilty about the fact that in addition to all of the above, this May will be remembered as the month we ate cake.

Image courtesy of Jodi & Kurt Photography

It is truly no exaggeration that we've enjoyed more cake since May 1st than I care to admit. Spring-inspired layer cakes, Bakewell tart, strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry cheesecake, Meyer lemon tart, the list goes on!

Our unwavering gluttony has once or twice been embarrassingly shameful; I may have enjoyed cake for breakfast on a couple of occasions and despite Erkan claiming to be much more conscientious than me when it comes to food consumption, we have both indulged in a second serving of our favorite homemade desserts without an ounce of guilt or obvious remorse.

This recipe I'm proudly sharing with you today is a spring-inspired layer cake undeniably worthy of a second helping. Rhubarb once again makes a headline appearance that is quite delicious when paired with rich cream cheese and sandwiched between layers of zesty lemon drizzle sponge. The finishing touch is an airy rhubarb infused Swiss buttercream, which envelopes the perfect marriage of tart rhubarb and fresh lemon behind the most delicate hue of soft pink.

Image courtesy of Jodi & Kurt Photography

The meteorological calendar pens today, June 1st, as the beginning of Summer in the Northern Hempishere. The sun is already strong as the day begins to get underway for the handful of city commuters in our quiet Alexandria cul-de-sac. There is a warm haze blanketing the trees as the early morning light begins to cast long shadows on the pavement. Birds sing joyfully and the stifling humidity I associate with Summer on the East Coast dances at the forefront of my memory as I contemplate the season ahead.

In truth, I'm not quite ready to let go of Spring. The blossoming trees have long since been and gone and we've had more than our fair share of April showers, however, I'm unprepared for the end of elusive Spring produce and the overbearing heat that makes this English rose diminish rather promptly in the height of the Summer sun.

So until the Summer solstice on June 21st, I'm holding onto Spring with both hands. And if that should mean more cake like this one, so be it!

Lemon Thyme Cake with Rhubarb

Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 30 mins
Serves: 12

Note that the cake ingredients are listed in metric and imperial units as this recipe is adapted from the British chef and author, Jo Pratt.


For the cake:

  • 260g/9oz superfine/caster sugar

  • 260g/9oz unsalted butter, softened

  • 260g/9oz self-rising flour

  • Grated zest and juice of three lemons

  • 15-20 sprigs of fresh thyme

  • 6 tablespoons whole milk

  • 3 large eggs

  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the rhubarb compote:

  • 3 cups {approx. 350g/12oz} rhubarb chopped into inch long pieces

  • 1/2 cup {120ml} blood orange juice

  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out

For the cream cheese rhubarb filling:

  • 1/2 cup {115g/4oz} cream cheese

  • 1/4 cup {55g/2oz} unsalted butter, softened

  • 2 1/2 cups {310g/10oz} confectioners sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste

  • 1/4 cup rhubarb compote

For the rhubarb Swiss buttercream:

  • 4 large egg whites

  • 1 1/3 cups {265g/9 1/2 oz} granulated sugar

  • 2 cups {450g/16oz} unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste

  • 1/2 cup rhubarb compote

  • Rhubarb syrup to taste


For the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.

  2. Grease three 6-inch cake pans and line with baking parchment.

  3. Place caster sugar, butter and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl and beat together until pale and creamy.

  4. Add the milk to the mixing bowl then beat in the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour to prevent the mixture from curdling.

  5. Incorporate the remaining flour and then divide evenly between the three pans.

  6. Bake in the center of the preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until a cake skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

  7. Remove from the oven once cooked and leave to cool in the pans.

  8. While the cake is cooling, place the lemon juice and thyme in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower to a simmer and allow the lemon juice to reduce to approximately 9 tablespoons.

  9. Remove from the heat once you have 9 tablespoons of lemon juice and allow to cool until just warm.

  10. Gently prick the sponges all over with a cocktail stick. Once the reduced lemon juice has reached the desired temperature, gently stir in the granulated sugar and pour the lemony sugar syrup evenly all over the cooled cakes. Allow to cool completely in the pans.

For the rhubarb compote:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan and stir to combine.

  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

  3. Once the orange juice is boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes until the rhubarb breaks down and begins to thicken.

  4. Strain the cooked rhubarb, reserving both the syrup and the fruit compote.

For the rhubarb cream cheese filling:

  1. Mix together butter and cream cheese in stand mixer until smooth.

  2. Sift confectioners sugar half a cup at a time into the butter and cream cheese mixture and incorporate after each addition.

  3. Add the vanilla and beat on high speed until light, smooth and creamy.

  4. Store in the fridge until ready to assemble the cake.

For the rhubarb Swiss buttercream:

  1. Puree 1/2 cup of the rhubarb compote until smooth and set aside.

  2. Gently whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer until just combined.

  3. Place the mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water {be sure that the mixing bowl doesn't touch the water!} and heat egg white mixture until the sugar dissolves, approximately 5-8 minutes.

  4. Once hot, remove the bowl and carefully return to the stand mixer. Whisk on high speed for 6-8 minutes or until stiff peaks form and the bowl returns to room temperature.

  5. With the mixer on low, slowly add the vanilla and butter a tablespoon at a time.

  6. Once all of the butter has been added, turn the stand mixer up to medium and mix until smooth.

  7. Add the pureed rhubarb and combine. If you wish, add the rhubarb syrup a teaspoon at a time until the desired flavor has been reached.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Remove the cream cheese filling from the fridge and carefully fold in the 1/4 cup of rhubarb compote. I try to fold the mixture just once so as to achieve a marbled effect.

  2. Remove the cooled cakes from their pans and sandwich together with the rhubarb cream cheese filling.

  3. Cover the top and sides of the filled cake with the rhubarb Swiss buttercream.

  4. Decorate and serve!



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