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Nigella Lawson's Toasted Marshmallow And Rhubarb Cake

Makes 8-12 Slices

While I have made the cake in its entirety the evening before when there has been no alternative, I prefer not to. The frosting certainly keeps the cake airtight, but the potential for drippage and slippage overnight is just too tense-making. I haven’t had any disasters yet, but feel it’s only fair to warn you that it is a risk. The cakes, on their own, if made in advance will become both too dry and too frangible. It’s not for me to tell you how to do your birthday candles, should you be making this for just such a celebration, but I favor a single black candle stuck into a plain white holder. It’s hard to make birthday candles chic—and I’m not saying they should be—but this does it; besides, there is no point interfering with the sumptuous vulgarity of the cake itself.

You do need to be prepared to whisk the whites until truly thick, but if you have an electric hand mixer, this does most of the work. The yolks are used to make two tender and celestially light golden sponges, and the rhubarb that goes between them provides its emphatic tang, offsetting the intense sweetness of the marshmallow frosting. Out of hothouse-rhubarb season, I favor a mixture of raspberries and red currants: 2 cups of the former and ⅔ cup of the latter. I put them into a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon each of granulated sugar, undiluted elderflower syrup and water, and warm them over low heat with a lid on for 3 minutes, or until the juices start to run, then give them 2 minutes with the lid off, before transferring them to a dish to cool. If you want to use just raspberries, straight from the package, uncooked, you may, and you won’t need many, but you should mash some with a fork—leaving a generous handful whole—before topping the marshmallow layer that sandwiches the cake with them. When I make the original rhubarb version, I like to bring a bowl of roasted rhubarb or rhubarb compote, however you like to think of it, to the table for people to spoon onto their cake plate, but I don’t regard it as obligatory; when I do the raspberry version, I regard extra berries on serving as non-negotiable.

This is a relatively new addition to my rhubarb repertoire, but it has been heavily in rotation ever since I first made it nearly two years ago. Anyone who has a birthday when the hothouse pink rhubarb is in season gets it (and I do even have alternatives for those dim days when it isn’t, and I’ll get to them later). It is splendidly celebratory, but not dauntingly difficult. You need a bit of elbow grease and a blowtorch; I can’t tell you how much I enjoy teasing out the snowy spikes of marshmallow-meringue and then scorching them. Actually, I positively exult in it: the very act of making this feels like a jubilant part of the celebration itself. And I thank cake consigliere Stella Parks, who, in the pages of her compendious BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, provided the hand-holding inspiration for the marshmallow frosting.