Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche Cream


Did you see it, drifting, all night on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air,
an armful of white blossoms,
a perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings: a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
a shrill dark music, like the rain pelting trees,
    like a waterfall
knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds–
a white cross streaming across the sky, its feet
like black leaves, its wings like the stretching light
    of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

–Mary Oliver

rhubarbchocolate cake batter

I know chocolate cake might not seem an obvious choice for spring, but I assure you, this one fits the bill. The cake, perfumed twice over with chocolate, is light and airy with a loose and tender crumb. The rhubarb and crème fraîche are more tart than sweet, and put me in mind of early spring days. I love this cake. I cannot stop baking it. I hope you will try it and love it too.

For the compote, I use a fortified wine from the Frenchman’s region called Pineau, however I realize this might be hard to find, so I have written fruit brandy into the recipe. You could probably also use Port or Rosé, if you want. The idea is to give the fruit a little boost, zip, and depth. And since strawberry season is still a ways off, I use frozen berries instead of fresh.

Use the best quality chocolate and cocoa powder you can find, I think it makes a difference here.

strawberries and rhubarb rhubarb compote

rhubarb compote chocolate cake with rhubarb compote

This recipe yields two 9-inch cake rounds. You can stack them into a simple two-layer cake, or you can slice each round in half crosswise, and make a four-layer cake. The rhubarb compote yields about 2 cups and the cream yields about 3 cups–these yields are enough to fill and frost a four-layer version of the cake. The cake can be made 1 day ahead, wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature. The compote can be made up to 4 days ahead, and the cream 2 days ahead. Store both in air tight containers in the refrigerator. Any extra compote is delicious on toast, over cereal, yogurt or ice cream. Serves 8-12.

  • chocolate cake: 
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter + flour, for greasing the pans
  • 2 ounces (57 grams) semisweet chocolate
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) fresh brewed coffee
  • 1 2/3 cups (220 grams) flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (375 grams) sugar
  • 2/3 cup (50 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup (200 grams) buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • rhubarb-strawberry compote:
  • 3-6 stalks rhubarb (or 3 cups/350 grams chopped)
  • 2 cups (284 grams) frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 cup (45 grams) demerara sugar
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) fruit brandy
  • crème fraîche cream:
  • 1/4 cup (65 grams) crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup (295 grams) chilled cream

  • chocolate cake: 
  •       Heat the oven to 300F/149C. Grease two 9-inch cake pans; line with parchment, dust with flour.
  •      Roughly chop the chocolate, and move it to a heatproof bowl, along with the fresh hot coffee. Let the chocolate sit for a minute, and then stir off and on for 1-2 minutes, until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  •      In a large bowl, sift together the flour, the sugar, the cocoa powder, the baking soda, and the salt.
  •      Crack the eggs into another large bowl. Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment (or you can do this by hand, it will just take longer), beat the eggs on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until they turn foamy and a paler yellow. Slowly pour in the oil, the buttermilk, the vanilla extract, and the melted chocolate; mix until combined well. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing until just incorporated and lump-free.
  •      Divide the batter between the two pans; move them into the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Out of the oven, move the cakes directly into the freezer for 30 minutes; this makes the cake super moist. Out of the freezer, the cakes are ready to serve.
  • rhubarb-strawberry compote:
  •      If your rhubarb still has leaves, cut them away. Wash the rhubarb stalks, and chop them into pieces about 1/2-inch long. Move the chopped rhubarb, the strawberries, the sugar, the salt, the lemon juice, and the fruit brandy into a heavy bottomed pot or a Dutch oven. Mix everything together with a large spoon, to evenly coat the fruit in the sugar, lemon juice, and brandy. Put the lid on, and turn the range to low heat. Stew the fruit for 20 minutes with the lid on, and then remove the lid and cook another 30 minutes. Move the compote off the heat, and allow it to cool. (You can move the compote to the refrigerator, if you want to speed up the process.)
  • crème fraîche cream:
  •      Spoon the crème fraîche into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, and stir to incorporate. Pour the cream into the bowl, and with an electric mixer on the whisk attachment, beat the cream until it forms soft peaks. (You can also do this by hand, but it will be a workout.) Move the cream to the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the cake.

chocolate cake rhubarb compote Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche Cream

Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche CreamChocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche Cream

Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche CreamChocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche CreamChocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche CreamChocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche Cream

Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche Cream Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche Cream

Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote + Crème Fraîche Cream


  1. Wow–this looks lovely. I wish I had somebody who would make it for me as I fear I don’t have the time or energy. But wow!! do I want some.

  2. Mama

    This cake looks so moist that the pictures make my mouth water! Did you bake the small one in a can?

    • CristinaSciarra

      You could certainly use a (BPA free) can to make mini cakes, but in this case I used cookie cutters. That’s why it’s such a mess!

  3. Jenn

    saw this post earlier today and knew i had to make it right away! went out to the store just to get rhubarb. it’s my first time baking w/ it. can’t wait to try this it looks amazing!

  4. Jenn

    i made this last night & it was incredible. one of the best cakes i’ve had. and easy too! i didn’t have creme fraiche so used plain greek yogurt thinned w/ half & half. and dark rum plus cranberry juice in place of the fruit brandy. will be making it again asap!

    • CristinaSciarra

      I am so glad you enjoyed the cake, Jenn, and that you made it your own!

  5. Yuval

    Absolutely beautiful. Looks delicious!

  6. VMD

    My new “go to” chocolate cake recipe. Good job, Cristina! (Although I skipped the rhubarb in lieu of the lazy man’s Bonne Maman rasberry jam.) The “Summer Kick-Off” partygoers loved it. I didn’t even have time to photograph it before it was totally devoured, leaving all those silly pies in the dust.

    • CristinaSciarra

      I’m so glad! Last time I made the cake I just used macerated strawberries, so I am all for the simplifying solutions.

  7. Greg Greenwald

    I am a huge fan of rhubarb so whenever I see a recipe with it being used I get very excited! This recipe sounds very good and I can’t wait to try it out myself.

  8. Maria Lopez

    Really pretty and you make it look so easy to make..:) thank you for sharing this recipe..:)

  9. Ski-rental

    So beautiful…. and delicious! Thanks for inspirations!

  10. Sev

    Wooh.. a mouth watering cake! I love creamy cakes. I am looking for new cake recipes I could try. I will include your recipe in my “cake to bake” list.

    • CristinaSciarra

      Thanks, Sev! This chocolate cake is a particular favorite. I hope you try it!

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