My parents used to sell a cake in their bakery which was made of two brioche-like sponges, sandwiched together with a thick, bright yellow custard and sprinkled on top with flaked almonds. This vanilla-rich cake was called a Bee-Sting, a funny name for a cake which I didn’t think much about as a child, preferring to concentrate my efforts on how many slices I could eat before my mum would put the remaining slices out on the counter to sell. Thinking now about the name, I can only laugh out loud at what it might imply!
When I first flicked through The Cake Stall by The Australian Women’s Weekly, I came across this recipe for Rhubarb Custard Tea Cake and was instantly reminded of the Bee-Sting. But unlike the Bee-Sting where the custard is added after the cake is baked, here, the custard layer is baked as part of the cake, producing a wonderfully layered cake straight from the oven. I couldn’t wait to try this recipe but first had to wait for rhubarb to come into season. And when I spotted the bright pink stems at the supermarket recently, I knew that I had a treat in store.
Being an Australian Women’s Weekly recipe, this cake is fairly easy to put together, not least because the custard is made using custard powder, an ingredient which is also incorporated into the cake batter to provide some colour (yellow), add flavour (vanilla) and also create lightness (from the cornflour). I used Bird’s custard powder in this recipe, but you could use any brand you like.
Although the recipe stipulates 300 g (about 4 stalks) of rhubarb, I found that I barely used one stalk. My husband would be the first to tell you that maths is not my strong point, and I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to fit more rhubarb onto the cake, particularly if I was using the photo in the book as a guide. I guess one could squeeze in more rhubarb on top of the cake, with the prerequisite of some geometry skills. The rhubarb shrinks ever so slightly on baking but more or less keeps its shape.
The cake itself tastes delicious and is sure to impress at any afternoon tea party. I was relieved to find that the custard layer was firm upon slicing, yet with still enough wobble to provide a contrasting texture to the cake. Though I can’t help but feel that the cake could have benefitted from some more rhubarb, perhaps as an additional layer above the custard. Maybe I’ll try that next time. For now, I’m super-pleased with this recipe and would happily make it again.
- For the custard:
- 2 tablespoons custard powder
- 55 g (1/4 cup) caster sugar
- 250 ml (1 cup) full cream milk
- 20 g (1 tablespoon) butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For the cake:
- 200 g (6½ oz) butter, softened
- 110 g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 185 g (1¼ cup) plain flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 40 g (1/3 cup) custard powder
- 1-2 fresh rhubarb stalks
- 20 g (1 tablespoon) butter, melted
- 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
- First, make the custard by mixing together the custard powder and caster sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk in the milk and bring the pan to the boil, stirring frequently. The mixture will start to thicken very quickly and, when it does, take the pan off the heat. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract. Place some clingfilm directly onto the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Cream the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy.
- Beat in one egg at a time, together with a tablespoon of the flour to help it all come together.
- Add the remaining flour, baking powder and custard powder, and mix well. The batter will be quite thick because there is no liquid, but it should still be spreadable.
- Line the bottom of a 20 cm (8 inch) springform cake tin with baking paper and grease the sides of the tin.
- Use a small spatula to spread half of the batter in the cake tin. Remember that it is a thick batter so you will have to make sure that it covers all of the surface.
- Spread the custard over the cake mixture.
- Dollop spoonfuls of the remaining cake batter over the custard and carefully spread the cake batter to completely cover the custard. Again, a small spatula works well here.
- Chop the rhubarb into 10 cm lengths and slice them lengthwise, about 1 cm thick.
- Arrange the rhubarb as in the photo, trimming them where necessary.
- Brush the top of the cake with melted butter and sprinkle generously with granulated sugar.
- Bake for about 1½ hour. Remove the cake from the tin and cool on a wire rack.
Rhubarb Custard Tea Cake … the long way
If custard powder is not available where you live, I would suggest replacing the custard powder in the cake batter with an equal quantity of cornflour (cornstarch) plus a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract. For the custard layer in the cake, I would suggest making a custard from scratch using cornflour (cornstarch) as a thickener.
The following is a recipe which I have tried and tested, producing an equally-delicious cake. You won’t have the same bright yellow colour in both the cake and custard, but this version is certainly much more elegant, owing in part to the pale yellow custard which is flecked with vanilla seeds.
As a slight variation to the cake above, and in an attempt to squeeze more rhubarb into the cake, this time I sliced the rhubarb into 1 cm pieces and arranged them on top of the cake before sprinkling with granulated sugar. The result is a much more rustic-looking cake than the previous version, but it still looked and tasted delicious.
A Few Notes
Thank you to those who have tried this wonderful cake and have left some valuable feedback. Your comments are always much appreciated, both for me and other readers who would like to try this recipe.
When making this cake, please bear in mind that, because the batter does not contain any liquid, it will be quite thick but it should still be spreadable. So rather than pouring the batter into the cake tin as you would usually, here, you will be spooning and dolloping the mixture into the tin, coaxing it with a small spoon or spatula to make it cover the area of the tin. The stiff batter had me a little worried when I first made the cake, but I was pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. Though, I shouldn’t have been surprised since the recipes by the Australian Women’s Weekly are triple-tested!
So don’t be too alarmed if your batter is thicker than your usual cake batter. Trust that it will work out in the end 🙂
When applying the batter on top of the custard, one trick is to dollop small spoonfuls across the surface, and to then use a small spoon or spatula to join up each dollop before evening out the layer. This is much easier than dolloping half the batter onto the custard and trying to spread it out!
Despite these tips to handle the thick batter, this recipe is rather simple to follow and I hope you will give it a try 🙂
Another delicious recipe
If you love this recipe for Rhubarb Custard Tea Cake, you might also like these delicious Rhubarb & Vanilla Friands …
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