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Rhubarb Sponge with Orange Blossom Crème Fraîche

by Angela Clutton from Seasoning: How to cook and celebrate the seasons (Murdoch Books)

Photography by Patricia Niven

This is one of my favourite, much-made, easy, cosy and comforting desserts. Imagine a Sunday afternoon curled up on the sofa with a bowl of rhubarb sponge and an old film. That’s the general vibe. It is simply light sponge atop tart rhubarb, whose tartness has had its edge taken off with thyme and honey. It is gorgeous with cream, custard, ice cream… and I think especially with crème fraîche that has some orange blossom water run through to create another gentle flavour partnership with the rhubarb. With thanks to Margaret Costa, whose recipe in her 1970s Four Seasons Cookery Book was the starting point for this.

Serves 4


For the rhubarb sponge

knob of butter

450g (1lb) trimmed rhubarb

leaves picked from 2 thyme sprigs

1½ tsp moscatel vinegar (Nigel substituted with apple cider or white wine vinegar)

3 tbsp runny honey

110g (3¾ oz) butter, soft at room temperature

110g (3¾oz) caster (superfine) sugar

2 eggs

1 tbsp milk

170g (6oz) plain (all-purpose) flour

For the crème fraiche

1 tbsp orange blossom water

500ml (17fl oz) crème fraîche


Preheat the oven to 185°C fan/400°F/gas 6. Grease a baking dish (about 1 litre/ 4-cup capacity) with the knob of butter.

Cut the rhubarb into 3cm (1in) lengths, put into the prepared dish and scatter over the thyme leaves. Pour over the vinegar and the honey.

To make the sponge, use the back of a wooden spoon or an electric beater to cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, the milk, and then fold in the flour. Spoon the sponge mix over the rhubarb. Bake for around 40 minutes until the sponge is risen and a beautiful gold.

Mix the orange blossom water into the crème fraîche and serve alongside the rhubarb sponge (which is best served hot from the oven, or reheated in a microwave).

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