Rhubarb Poppy Seed Cake

june 1, 2021

slice of rhubarb poppyseed cake

Homemade cakes got extra attention when I was growing up. We were a dessert family; store bought cakes showed up occasionally, but when mom made her own, we felt the love. Even when the cakes were lopsided, partially frosted or just plain plain, they were always better than anything we purchased.

Spring Means Rhubarb

Rhubarb season is now. Cake must be made. However, I’m always on the lookout for easy cakes that don’t involve the work of using and then cleaning the electric mixer. This sweet recipe for Rhubarb Bread came to my rescue, with the pairing of orange and rhubarb bridging two seasons.

ingredients for rhubarb poppyseed cake

Mixer-avoidance works for this moist bread, so why not make a bundt cake with the same flavors?  Fluffy cakes like chiffon and angel food hold no sway over me. I like cakes dense, more on the robust side, like Blueberry Lemon Cheese  Cream Cheese Cake or Zucchini Walnut Spice Cake.

whole rhubarb poppyseed cake

Rhubarb pairs well with orange. Zest in the cake wakes up the rhubarb and orange juice in the thick glaze makes a sweeter vehicle than milk or water.

Tips for Making this Rhubarb Cake

  • do soak the poppy seeds in warmed buttermilk to soften them and release their unique flavor
  • a little butter in the powdered sugar glaze thickens it so that draping over the sides is a given
  • resist the temptation to cut the rhubarb into tiny bits; you want to see and taste the chunks of tart red fruit
  • let the cake rest at least one day to “age it”—a dense, moist cake will be your reward

rhubarb poppyseed cake with cup of tea

If the term fruitcake conjures images of that holiday doorstop passed from relative to unwitting friend to hapless neighbor, stamp it out of your head right this minute, as you savor the idea of seasonal fruit baked into a lovely cake you would gladly share with friends and neighbors alike, if there is any left.

Rhubarb Poppy Seed Cake

recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company

makes at least 12 servings


¼ cup poppy seeds
1 cup buttermilk
3 cups gluten free flour blend (I like Bob’s Red Mill 1-for-1)*
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sticks unsalted butter (16 tablespoons), melted and cooled to room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
one orange – zested (orange part only) plus save rest for juice
3 cups raw rhubarb (remove all toxic leaves) cut in large dice, ¾ inch pieces
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
pinch fine sea salt
* regular all purpose wheat flour works just as well


  1. Heat poppy seeds blended with buttermilk in small saucepan over medium low heat just until steaming; cool to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  3. Grease and flour large heavy bundt pan.
  4. Whisk flour with baking powder and soda and salt in mixing bowl.
  5. In large mixing bowl, whisk melted 16 tablespoons butter with sugar.
  6. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well, then vanilla and orange zest.
  7. Add cooled poppy seed/buttermilk mixture.
  8. Pour dry ingredients atop wet, scatter rhubarb pieces, then use spatula to combine all, coating rhubarb with flour mixture to ensure even distribution in cake.
  9. Spoon into prepared cake pan and bake about 1 ½ hours.
  10. Cool cake in pan about 10 minutes, then carefully tip out onto cooling rack.
  11. When cake is fully cooled, prepare orange glaze: mix melted tablespoon of butter with powdered sugar and pinch of salt, then add orange juice one tablespoon at a time, mixing well to avoid lumps, until thick glaze ( you will need about 3 tablespoon orange juice); glaze will look too thick to pour but it will take about 15-20 minutes to drip down sides of cake when applied to top ridge of bundt.
  12. Cake is best when allowed to rest at least overnight, becoming more dense and sweet.
  13. It will last at room temperature up to 5 days, then freeze if desired.


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