No-Bake Rhubarb Cheesecake Bars

Two tall slices of rhubarb-swirled cheesecake on a plate alongside the remaining cake on a cutting board.

Kitra: I saw Erin Clarkson of Cloudy Kitchen post a “coming soon” photo of rhubarb cheesecake, and sent it to Jordan immediately. But soon isn’t ever soon enough for rhubarb cheesecake so we made it up. Sorry, and please go check out Erin’s version when it’s up!

Jordan: I have no doubts that hers will be excellent, given that we shamelessly stole her idea and used her cheesecake base and ours was also excellent, not to brag or anything.

Rhubarb is extremely underrated, so there’s no such thing as too much.

I have questions about why we cultivate it in the first place—the leaves are literal poison?? and the stalks don’t taste great unless you cook them with sugar?—but I’m glad we do, since there’s just something delicious about rhubarb.

And it doesn’t need to be cut with strawberries, or anything else. Rhubarb is GOOD. We had a plant in our front yard growing up and the start of rhubarb season was so exciting.

Rhubarb’s unique flavor really shines when it’s paired with something simple, which makes it a great candidate for a cheesecake topping.

And we love cheesecake. You do too, I assume. Because you should. It’s great.

This, however, is not a normal cheesecake. This is a no-bake cheesecake, which—per Erin’s blog posts—is common in New Zealand but which we had never made. It’s much lighter than a typical dense, rich, egg-based cheesecake.

Plus, it was hot as hell in DC last weekend when we made this, and will be for most of the rest of eternity (thanks climate change, for the sweat) so losing the oven was good. And would be even better for my kitchen where there is no AC.

If you’re not a fan of traditional cheesecake—either making or eating it—this one might be worth a try. My partner, who usually doesn’t like cheesecake, was a fan of it because the filling is so light and fluffy, almost like a cream cheese mousse.

Which also means it’s a way better breakfast/snack/just because cheesecake since you don’t feel like you’ve eaten all your food for the day after a few bites.

Fair warning, though, that it is extremely easy to eat directly out of the container with a fork while standing at your kitchen counter. Not that I have experience with this.

Seconded. Also, can we talk about how thick (thicc even?) it is???

An absolute unit, as the kids say. A chonk.

Yes, we used the wrong size pan and that was a problem, but even in the right size pan it’s a sturdy crust and a nice thick layer of everything. Bless.

I would call this roughly a 2:1 filling-to-crust ratio, which is the right ratio. Crumb crusts are the best crusts and I will die on this hill of graham crackers.

So, with further apologies but also thanks and a lot of credit to Erin, please cheesecake.

A whole cheesecake with rhubarb topping swirled beautifully through the top layer.
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Lemon Snack Cake

A slice of lemon raspberry cake with icing over top

Jordan: Kitra has been all in on Julia Turshen’s cookbooks recently, so that’s obviously where our next cake needed to come from.

Kitra: I’m always all in on Julia Turshen, but especially since her new book came out a few weeks ago, because it is perfect in every way (beautifully written, great food, easy to make things, gay, so many dogs, and have I mentioned beautifully written???) and I’ve eaten from it about 4 times a week since I got it.

This cake is… not from that book.

But it is conveniently from another of her books, which both of us happen to own. (Okay, I got Jordan’s copy for her but it was on her wishlist!)

It’s titled “afternoon cake” in the book, but this is really an anytime cake—which, to be fair, is the best kind of afternoon cake.

And since we both planned to bring cake to outdoor afternoon gatherings on the same day, it seemed like a sign that this was the cake to go with.

It’s also something of a choose-your-own adventure cake. The original uses orange zest and juice; we both used lemon instead, though we took it in different directions.

I went with the lemon poppyseed variation offered in the book, because I will use any excuse to add poppyseeds to something. Muffin-esque cakes > other cakes.

I swirled in some jam—with limited success, to be fair, but that may have been user error rather than the recipe’s fault. Both of us added a simple lemon glaze as well.

I ate 65% of this cake in one afternoon in my front yard, and my only regret is not just eating all of it.

And mine got good reviews at the farewell picnic I went to, despite my having overbaked it. Fortunately there’s almond flour in the batter, which keeps it from getting too dry and crumbly if you make the same mistake.

We’re both pretty tired while writing this, but the real takeaway is cake = good, make some and revel.

A round lemon-poppyseed cake on a cake stand, with a small pitcher of glaze and a stack of plates next to it
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Brown Sugar Spice Cake

Two slices of brown sugar cake, one with apple butter spread on top, with a jar of apple butter open next to the plate

Kitra: Goals for today’s cake:

  1. Easy
  2. Can be eaten with apple butter/my hands
  3. Breakfast cake/snacking cake
  4. Small
  5. Did not require a trip to the grocery store

Jordan: This cake ticks all of those boxes and y’all, it is a Good Cake(™). It’s heavily spiced, soft but with a bit of texture, uses 1-2 bowls (depending on how much you follow the instructions), and goes from preheating the oven to eating cake in less than an hour.

This cake was everything I didn’t even know I needed, and I will make it again! No complaints, and I’ve already eaten half of it.

It’s also a pretty flexible recipe. The original recipe had plums (or other fruit) baked into the top.

I nearly swirled my apple butter into it, which I think would work! Or use up some leftover cranberry sauce!

Want more/less/different spice? Go for it. I dialed back the sugar for an even more breakfasty cake, which made it kind of like a well-spiced cornbread. (Not a bad thing!)

This seems hella adaptable. I’d make it again and serve it at a fall brunch with sauteed apples on the side.

We both made tiny cakes in loaf pans using a half batch, but you could double the recipe below in a round or square pan, or even in a loaf pan for a thicker cake.

This was the cake that my tired brain needed. (Even though I ran out of ground ginger and crushed up a tea bag instead.)

This is truly just a good cake to have in your back pocket. It works for any and all occasions: breakfast, dessert, tea, just because. It would make a lovely layer cake with a lightly sweet cream cheese frosting.

If you’re doing a lot of holiday baking, this is a chill-ass cake that will still fit the bill and also leave you enough energy for all the cookies in your holiday cookie timetable spreadsheet (is that just me?)

Whether you’re fitting cake in around cookie-baking (Kitra), errand-running (Jordan), or just general exhaustion (everyone), keep this one in mind.

A square piece of brown sugar spice cake with a dollop of fig jam on top.
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Berry Ricotta Cake

A cake with cherries pressed in the top baked in a flowery Pyrex dish

Jordan: Somehow Kitra has suggested a fruit-based cake for the second time in a row and y’all, I am here for it.

Kitra: In fairness, when I was looking at the photos for this post I also said “you’ll have to judge yours because I find the gooey strawberry bits very unappealing.”

Kitra finds cakes with fruit in them to be squishy and weird after about the first 8 hours (only slightly exaggerating).

Nah, that’s accurate. I also don’t like the way they discolor over time, and that in DC summers it only takes like a day to grow mold.

However, if you—like me—are fine with a slightly ugly cake that has to be stored in the fridge, summer is peak cake time. The fruit cooks down until it’s kind of jammy and delightful. You don’t need frosting, just some whipped cream or nothing at all. Summer fruit cakes are the ideal breakfast cake, which we’ve established many times is the ideal genre of cake.

And, while I prefer to use my fruit in a pie (highest calling for fruit), or ice cream (also good), I’m happy to keep trying them. This time I was drawn in by ricotta, which I love and also already had in my fridge.

It’s a good cake! The ricotta keeps it moist and tender, and the edges get a beautiful crispiness that contrasts well with the fluffy center.

It was also pretty easy. (Unless you use cherries and don’t have a cherry pitter which took… some time. I have stainable countertops.)

We offer some flavor combinations in the recipe notes, since the base takes on extra flavorings really well. Mine came out as a nice bright lemon cake.

And mine turned out like a good, classic coffee cake.

The one word of warning we have is that this is a very thick cake, as you can see below. This means it will serve well for breakfast or a hearty afternoon snack, but if you want a slice for a light dessert, we’ve suggested that you could get away with half the batter in a smallish pan.

I’d describe the current cake as hefty. It’s also delicious, so hefty is good.

A cake with strawberries baked into the top with a slice cut out and sitting next to it.
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Berry Cornmeal Cake

Jordan: It’s bluebs season!

Kitra: I cannot believe you’re still calling them that, and also that I wasn’t expecting you to do it.

In fairness, I haven’t been actively calling them bluebs. Just when I know it’s going to annoy someone.

I don’t find it annoying, just… unsettling? I don’t know. It’s fine, but I also think blueberry is a way more fun word to say. It’s like when people have nicknames that are longer than their actual name. It just seems like a waste?

We can agree to disagree on bluebs versus blueberries. However (segue alert!), I know we agree that cooked blueberries are strongly underrated.

Definitely. People go on and on about the joys of cooked strawberries (which never really break down, and are usually better fresh I will fight you all on this), and raspberries (good, but also how often do you get a really quality raspberry or any raspberry because $$$, let’s be real here) but blueberries are cheap, usually very good, and cook down PERFECTLY. Plus, no chopping!

They really need very little to make them great. Our dad used to make blueberry omelets, which were literally omelets filled with a cooked-down mixture of blueberries and lemon juice and a bit of sugar, and they were perfect. Blueberry compote? Great. Blueberry pie? Great, if you let them do their thing without adding a ton of cornstarch. Blueberry cake? Well, here we are.

I thought “this is way too many berries for this cake” but that has never been the case in the history of butter and flour (see also: all pies ever), so I don’t know why I was suspicious.

The cake itself is a lightly sweetened, cornbread-like base. It’s not anything wildly exciting on its own, but then you dump a bunch of sweetened berries on top and it all comes together. A sugary topping forms a nice crispy crust on top of it all.

I’ll be honest that I love the topping (especially because it asked me to use candied ginger, one of my all time favorite foods), but that I’m not 100% on putting it on top of cornbread. It’s definitely a breakfast cake, which is great. But also, I might do this on a regular coffee cake base another time. I’m also more of a sweet cakes fan than Jordan, who likes her breakfast cakes like I like granola. (With yogurt or milk in a bowl? Why. But, you do you.)

Yeah, I liked that this one was not very sweet. If anything, the topping was almost too sweet for me—but once it had a chance to sit and everything kind of melded together, it turned out great. And yes, I had a slice this morning topped with milk, as if it were cereal, which Kitra found horrifying.

I do agree this cake hits a peak on the second day, when the whole thing seems less arbitrary. Both days it was good, don’t get me wrong! I’m going to eat it all and think back on it fondly, but my brain just couldn’t quite wrap around how the layers worked together. A bit like when you put food on top of rice. The rice is just a base that you don’t really think about. This felt to me on the first day like a topping on cornbread. The second day it felt more like one dish.

Kitra has given a lot of caveats here, but I would recommend it. If you have a bunch of blueberries (or other berries, for that matter) and a desire for cake, you could do much worse than this.

I would also recommend it, just don’t think of it as a “cake” per se. More as a fun breakfast snack!

Which is really what all cakes dream of being, in their heart of hearts.

^^^ yep.

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Chocolate Loaf Cake

Jordan: Our criteria for picking a cake this week: 1) Includes buttermilk, because I still have a bottle in my fridge.

Kitra: 2) Uses two or fewer eggs, because I haven’t been to the store in over a month and that’s all I have now.

3) Not particularly complicated or dish-heavy, because we’re both lazy.

4) Something in a loaf pan, that seems like I could freeze slices of because I live alone and absolutely cannot eat another entire cake this week.

Enter: Smitten Kitchen’s everyday chocolate cake.

I’ve made this before, but like eight years ago and I couldn’t tell you anything about it except that it’s chocolate and a loaf cake. And both of those sounded like pluses.

I shouldn’t be the one to sell anyone on this, because I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake. But I gave a slice to my partner and his first response was, “This is really moist! And much more chocolatey than I would have expected from something you made.”

And as someone who does like chocolate cake, I’ll tell you that this is a delightful afternoon/anytime cake. If you want chocolate cake, but are tired of washing forks and need something you can just cut a slice of and eat while you go about your day, this is it. It’s perfect for this era of our lives, where the idea of “dessert” no longer exists and all food is just for whenever you want it.

I was going to disagree with Kitra but then I remembered that I ate chips and salsa at 10:15pm last week, so.

I made fresh pasta for lunch yesterday, and dinner was a bowl of frozen broccoli that I ate with my fingers. Time, meals, and utensils are dead to me at this point. Cookie dough is lunch.

Point is: This is a good anytime cake. I had mine with a dollop of creme fraiche, and it would be just as good with greek yogurt for a vaguely kinda healthy breakfast.

Chocolate cake with yogurt on it: The breakfast of influencers and body builders everywhere, probably I guess.

While nothing with a 2:1 flour-to-cocoa ratio will ever be my favorite cake, this is a pretty good one. I will continue to eat it! If for some reason I needed to make a rich chocolate cake in the future, this would be a contender. It also has a nice thin, crispy crust on top, which both of us loved.

In summary: good cake, eat it whenever, eat it with your hands, contemplate whether time matters.

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Orange Olive Oil Cake

Jordan: It feels weird to write a blog post about cake right now.

Kitra: I don’t remember much about this cake, or why we made it. It was good, but not important in any scheme of things, honestly.

We made this cake a week and a half ago but were both too tired/bleh to actually write up, so we were going to wait a day or two until we had less malaise going on. BOY WAS THAT A MISTAKE.

Things that are more important than this cake: *gestures wildly at everything*

That was going to be a list but honestly, that covers a lot of it. Which is not to say that this cake is bad! It’s actually quite a good cake! But I don’t think there are any cakes that are as important as… *gestures wildly at everything*

We’ve talked before about baking during a major cultural “JESUS FUCK ARE WE GOING TO HAVE TO EXPLAIN THAT PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE EVEN IF THEY AREN’T A KAVANAUGH” moment.

But that felt different in a lot of ways. Looking back at that post, it was actually… very funny? But that doesn’t feel appropriate here. And I think that’s because as two very very white* women, this isn’t our moment to laugh-cry about. This is our moment to shut up and listen and do what we can to help, not our moment to write swear words on cake and avoid the news by taking Buzzfeed quizzes.

* 2% milk white, to be specific. At least that’s what the quizzes said last time.

We’re going to give you this cake recipe, because this is a cake blog and (in the wise words of Deb Perelman) no one’s mind ever got changed by the headnotes of a sheet cake. But look, babynames dot freaking com is in on this. If we can contribute to making awareness of racial justice even 1% harder to ignore, we want to do that. So we’re also going to give you this very incomplete list of things that (particularly if you are a white person) you can and should look into before, after, and while baking said cake:

  • Does your state have cash bail? Donate to a bail fund. (DC doesn’t, but here are other ways to help, and most activists recommend legal defense funds as a good alternative.)
  • Have conversations with the people in your life who consider themselves to be progressive but also don’t think that they’re privileged because their lives are hard too. (Here’s a good starter essay.)
  • Bookmark this and come back to it regularly: 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice.
  • Advocate at your workplace for better policies and communication around race and diversity.
  • Take a hard look at how much of your media—including your recipes—comes from people of color, and work on improving that.
  • Learn about the racist history of policing in America and what “defund the police” actually means.
  • Get involved in your local politics. How does your city government work? DC has hyperlocal representatives that you can get in touch with. (Jordan hopped on her local ANC Zoom call last week! It was super helpful!)
  • Donate to mutual aid funds, which provide direct support to your neighbors. If you live in a city, you can probably google “(city) mutual aid” and come up with a list or a Facebook group or something; here’s DC’s.
  • Think about the things that you love, and who gets to make and participate in them. If that’s food, great! Start there.
  • If you are also a white lady and want to elevate and support voices that aren’t your own, listen to this advice and sub your job in for “cookbooks.”
  • If the thing you love is theater (like Kitra), check out weseeyouwat.com and also find some new favorite artists.
  • Listen to the people of color around you! And then actually use what you hear. That’s where we always seem to get stuck, as individuals and as a society. We say “ah yes, that’s a really good point” and then go back to doing things exactly the same way we used to. That has to stop.

That’s just what we pulled off the top of our heads/browser histories, but there is so much more. These are specific to our location and interests and news outlets; if you do your own research, you might find things that resonate more with you.

You’re going to need some fuel to do all that reading, and something to stress eat, and if I can make a recommendation: Cake.

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Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Two Ways

Jordan: I always want to make coffee cake. Well, actually, I always want to eat coffee cake, but that often requires first making coffee cake, especially nowadays.

Kitra: And I always want to eat coffee cake batter, which always requires making it. Ugh. (Not that it’s hard. It was just 77° in my kitchen today.)

I’ve been pushing for us to make a sour cream coffee cake for probably a month now, but it hasn’t quite happened. It turns out making cake is more complicated when it requires both of us to do this wild and complicated thing called “going to the store in advance.”

Especially since we’re going to different stores, and tend to have different ideas of basics. (Sure, there’s always eggs, but I always grab salt and vinegar chips and only grab something like sour cream if I know I’ll need it.)

You may recall that Kitra has strong feelings about sour cream.

I would like to be clear that I think it’s a valuable component of other things, but I just don’t want to eat it straight. I put it on chili, in baked goods, and plenty of other things, but I don’t lick the spoon like Jordan does.

Fortunately for Kitra, sour cream coffee cake doesn’t taste like sour cream; it’s just there to… Actually, I don’t know what it does for the cake. I’m not a scientist. All I know is that it’s delicious.

“Sour cream coffee cake” is basically just classic coffee cake. Streusel inside or out, it’s pretty much the one most of us grew up with.

And for the record, this is cake that goes alongside coffee, not cake made with coffee. I’m given to understand that this is a point of confusion on many food blogs, and also once with Kitra’s former roommate. (Who, to be fair, was also confused about literally everything.)

I mean, Jordan said it not me. (RT=endorsement)

We actually made two different coffee cakes today. I’ve been cooking from the newish Tartine cookbook this month, and it includes a recipe for a sour cream coffee cake that is also gluten-free, which is how I’ve been more or less eating for a while. It’s a delicious coffee cake, and though it doesn’t taste exactly like a regular one, I don’t know that I could put my finger on what was different if I didn’t know it was made with almond flour.

I made a regular one. Complete with assessments of which coffee cake pages in the heavy-rotation cookbooks from our childhood seemed the most well worn, and texts to our dad.

Honestly, while I will probably make the Tartine one again in the future, if you eat gluten you should absolutely make the traditional one. It’s basically the Platonic ideal of a sour cream coffee cake. Even if it doesn’t taste like childhood to you like it does to us, you’ll still love it.

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Almond Sponge Cake

A slice of almond cake with whipped cream sitting on a plate next to the full cake.

Kitra: Hello to everyone from our separate homes which we do not intend to leave any time soon! I hope there’s cake where you are.

Jordan: It’s been a weird couple of weeks, huh? Kitra and I are both working from home and have been for about two weeks now. DC recently shut down all non-essential businesses, so there’s a lot of not leaving our apartments going on, and that’s about it.

So it’s like every Friday night in my house, but lasting for weeks on end.

Was that a… self-own?

Nope! I love being at my house alone. It’s my ideal day.

Not all of us are quite as thrilled, but we’re both pretty lucky that we’re getting paid and aren’t also trying to homeschool children or ignore terrible roommates or take care of high-risk relatives.

And we’re not really struggling to find food in our areas. We’ve got basics in the pantry, options to get fresh produce, and neighborhood favorite restaurants that are delivering.

So this is our recognition that we’re both in a pretty good place, all things considered. But we’d be lying if we said this wasn’t also a little bit terrible. Like, you know that crushing anxiety about the world that you sometimes get? It’s a little more crushing than usual, and I think everyone feels that right now.

Also, it feels like I’m doing dishes every second of the day somehow.

So many dishes.

Also, there is nowhere that isn’t out of flour. Sure, I’ve got some, but not much. So I’m looking to keep myself entertained by baking, and by not using the 6 cups of all-purpose flour I have left.

We picked this cake today because it fits most of our needs for being home all day in this situation. First, no flour (which also means it’s gluten-free, and Passover friendly if you’re looking ahead to that). Second, it doesn’t take all that long to make. Third—and perhaps most importantly—it’s the kind of cake you can eat whenever. Breakfast? Afternoon snack? Dessert? Yep!

Added bonus: While we both used the almond flour that lurks in our respective freezers, you can use whatever nut you discovered a ton of in the pantry when cleaning it out. (I have 5 kinds of almonds, and a ton of all of them, somehow? I don’t remember buying any of them.)

The one downside is that it requires two bowls to make, but we promise it’s worth it. And I hate doing anything involving egg whites and Kitra hates doing dishes, so if we tell you it’s worthwhile, you know it’s true.

True. It’s also pretty infinitely adaptable, so whatever taste you’re hoping for you can probably get. Add a zest! Add spices! (I added many, many spices.) Add an extract! Mix it up. You can also top it however. It’s a blank slate of a cake. Chocolate glaze! Fruit! Whipped cream! Yogurt for breakfast! Jam!

But to be clear, it’s also great plain. I didn’t add anything fancy to mine, and while I did put whipped cream on top, I would happily eat it on its own. It’s got the texture of a standard sponge cake but a beautiful almond flavor if you leave it unspiced.

All in all: great cake to eat in its entirety, alone in your house.

So here’s a cake for you—whatever situation you’re in right now. We hope it makes things a little less terrible.

Two slices of almond cake on a small plate
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Classic Cake Day: Caramelized Almond Cake with Spiced Poached Pears

almond-pear-1.jpg

[Classic Cake Day revisits some of our favorite cakes from the first year or so, before the blog. We made this cake in November 2017.]

Jordan: We spent the entire process of making this cake convinced that it was going to be terrible.

Kitra: The process of this cake is a little bonkers to start with, and then you bake it until done, up the temperature, and bake it for another 10 minutes so it should be dry and sad. But it’s not.

Honestly, this is possibly my favorite cake we’ve ever made. Definitely in the top few. I did not share.

Neither did I. This makes a great dessert, snack, breakfast, lunch, etc. It’s a perfect cake for every occasion except for a nut allergy convention.

The cake is light and pleasant, but the real star here is the topping. Don’t be afraid of the caramel—you’re not actually caramelizing anything on the stove, just heating it all up and letting the oven do the work.

Because this is a fairly simple cake, we also decided to add some fruit! Poached pears make your apartment smell great, and they taste even better. One note though: if you try to decorate the cake with just two pears, they look like a butt. This was a really hard cake to photograph.

The cake and pears are both great on their own, but together they’re even better. If the words “caramelized almonds” didn’t sell you from the start, though, I’m not sure what else we can say.

almond-pear-collage.jpg
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