Rhubarb and Anise Upside Down Cake

There’s something very comforting about upside down cakes. Maybe it’s their rustic appearance, homey simplicity, or a possibility to eat them warm, almost right from the oven. There’s probably a thousand of variations on this theme. And I find most of them being quite good; yes, even the one with canned pineapple rings on the top (ok, I, myself, always use fresh ones). Sometimes, though, these cakes can be a bit too sweet. Well, this is not the case with the rhubarb – it’s sour enough to balance the brown sugar sweetness perfectly. As for anise, it goes miraculously well with the rhubarb. And even if you are not very fond of the licorice flavor, as I am, still – give it a try. The anise flavor is very subtle here, it just leaves you puzzled about what is in this cake.

Rhubarb and Anise Upside Down Cake

Makes one 10-inch round cake, about 12 servings

For the topping:

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup, 4 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • about 1 1/2 pounds trimmed rhubarb

For the cake:

  • 1 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup milk


Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350F.

In a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet melt the butter over moderate heat until the foam subsides and reduce the heat to low. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the skillet and heat, undisturbed, 3 minutes (not all brown sugar will be melted). Remove the skillet from the heat. Cut enough rhubarb crosswise into 1-inch pieces and decoratively arrange, flat sides down, in a one layer over the brown sugar.

With a mortar and pestle or in an electric coffee/spice grinder finely grind anise seeds. Into a bowl sift together the anise, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a measuring cup, combine the buttermilk and milk together. Set aside.

With an electric mixer in a large bowl beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixer on low speed add the flour mixture alternately in batches with the buttermilk and milk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and beating until just combined (do not overbeat). Spoon the batter over the rhubarb in the skillet, spreading evenly without disturbing the rhubarb, and bake the cake until golden, about 45 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool the cake in the skillet on a rack for 15 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the edge of the skillet and invert a plate over the skillet. Wearing the oven mittens and keeping the plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert the cake onto the plate. Carefully remove the skillet and let the cake cool on the plate on the rack. Serve the cake warm or at room temperature. My favorite way to serve the cake – warm, with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy.

Rhubarb and Anise Upside Down Cake Slice