Rhubarb Jam Coffee Cake

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Rhubarb Coffee Cake 2

The description of food as “decadent,” “sinful,” or “naughty” has bothered me for a long time. Part of this is how food marketing directed at women uses guilt as well as pleasure (both “sinful” but also “guilt-free”) to describe food. As I’ve delved into research on late-Victorian culture, particularly the Decadent movement and Aestheticism, I realized that those same words that are used to praise desserts by demonstrating their “badness” are also used negatively to describe aspects of queer culture, specifically the idea that being queer is, in and of itself, decadent—luxuriously self indulgent, signaling moral decline.


Gif: Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter, licking his lips with the caption “# bitch don’t test me.” Yes, the irony of using the Ultimate Queer Decadence was not lost on me. Source

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It seems completely ridiculous to me that anyone would think that being queer suddenly bestows a life of luxury upon us, especially with the economic inequality many of us face (especially if you’re also not an able-bodied white cis gay man with money). Loving myself is not self indulgent; and being active in dismantling the gender binary and the patriarchy is pretty much the opposite of moral decline. Being in a healthy relationship where we actively question and refuse to participate in homonormativity and heteronormativity feels pretty luxurious sometimes? (And shouldn’t that be the norm and not the exception?)

With this in mind: What do we conceive of as good, useful, practical, and what do we think is luxurious, impractical, unnecessary? How do we decide who is “worthy” of basic humanity or luxury? What does luxury mean when you aren’t wealthy or even middle class? How does capitalism reward the wealthy and punish the poor in terms of food?

To tease apart some of the intersections of “decadence” as it relates to food and being marginalized:

Racist Sandwich interviewed Ijeoma Uluo “about food and poverty and how society uses food to deny the poor their dignity and humanity. They’re made to feel shame about their hunger, their choices and their desire to enjoy life and eat something decadent every once and a while.”

I first read John Birdsall’s James Beard Award winning piece “America,Your Food is So Gay” in Lucky Peach in 2014, and his descriptions of “is there a gay sensibility?” in food have stuck with me since then. CW: descriptions of casual homophobia, sexual harassment.

Support your local indie writers! Marginalized folks creating community, which is also considered a luxury for some reason, often comes out of our own shallow pockets. Here’s a chance to support the Seattle indie writing community, especially writers and creators who are women, LGBTQIA, and/or POC: Damn Write Seattle(PS: Robin and I will be at Fall for Zines! on Sept. 23. Come say hi!)

For a deliciously sarcastic take on #luxury for social media, @shitfoodblogger’s personal pan Rice Krispie treat feed takes just the right tone.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake 1

About the recipe: this coffeecake is delicious. It looks and tastes fancy af and doesn’t require a lot of skill or expensive ingredients to make. This cake is a good example of making something splendid out of the ordinary, and if that’s not a metaphor for what my queer life experience has been, I don’t know what is.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake 3

Rhubarb Jam Coffee Cake

Adapted from Deluxe Sunday Morning Coffee Cake, The Joy of Cooking, 2006 ed., p. 631.


  • A 9 or 10-inch springform (23 or 25 cm in diameter) or an 8×8 inch (20×20 cm) brownie pan
  • Food processor or pastry cutter
  • A large mixing bowl
  • Hand mixer
  • Silicone spatula (large)
  • Small knife or small silicone spatula
  • Wire rack

Make ahead:

~2 cups Rhubarb Rose Oven Jam (¾ batch) or 2 cups of your favorite chunky jam. Don’t have vanilla bean? Use ~1 tsp of vanilla extract.

Ingredients and Procedure

Ingredients should be about room temperature.

Extra butter for greasing
1 TBSP panko or dried bread crumbs*

Grease the pan with butter and sprinkle the panko evenly on the bottom. Turn lightly to coat and tap out any extra crumbs.

For the cake:

In a large bowl, whisk together until blended:

2 cups (250 g) all-purpose flour
¾ cup (150 g) sugar
1 tsp salt

Cut into  ~1 TBSP slices:

10 TBSP (1 ¼ sticks, 140 g, 5 oz) unsalted butter

Add flour mixture and butter to food processor (or cut with a pastry cutter) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Remove ½ cup of the crumbs and set aside. (You can add the crumbs back into the food processor for later.) Put the rest of the mixture back into the large bowl.

Add to the large bowl and whisk thoroughly:

1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda


¾ cup (180 mL) buttermilk or plain yogurt
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract

Using the hand mixer, beat for  ~1 minute on medium-high speed until the batter is smooth and fluffy. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Gently spread

1.5 – 2 cups (360-480 mL) of jam (see above)

on top of the batter.

For the streusel, add to the food processor**:

½ cup (or 240 mL by volume) of reserved “crumbs”
¾ cup (95 g) walnuts or pecans
½ cup (100 g) packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Run the food processor until blended, then sprinkle the streusel over the jam on the cake.

Bake at 350°F (175°C) for 50-65 minutes (10 inch pan) or 60-70 minutes (9 inch pan), or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool ~10 minutes, then slide a small knife or small silicone spatula around the edge. Remove the pan sides. Let cool on the wire rack for ~2 hours before serving.


*Don’t look at me like that. It actually helps the cake come off the pan in one piece.

**If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop the nuts and mix streusel ingredients with a fork until blended.


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