This vegan rhubarb streusel cake is a healthier twist on the German classic, made with coconut sugar and a soft spelt base. It’s essentially bread and a vegetable and therefore totally acceptable for breakfast.
This post was originally published in May 2017. It has been updated with improvements to the text and recipe as of May 2020.
If you’re looking for a recipe that doesn’t use yeast, try this vegan lemon rhubarb cake instead.
This is a cake I’ve been making since I was about ten years old. It’s a family favourite. My omi requests it whenever rhubarb is in season, my great-grandmother made it often, and my mom taught me when I was little.
Rhubarb streusel cake is very popular in Germany in the springtime and I’ve always made it with the first rhubarb from our garden. Forced rhubarb is beautiful here, and the pinkest rhubarb you can find will always look best, though it doesn’t really change the flavour. If you don’t like rhubarb, the base recipe can be used with any number of fruits (see below for substitutions).
This is a yeasted recipe, with a sweet bread base and the rhubarb and crumble topping. Streusel is just sugar, fat, and flour mixed into a crumbly blend, the same thing you’d use to top a rhubarb crisp. In this case it’s coconut sugar, coconut oil, and spelt flour. No oats are used, though.
- Non-dairy milk (I use oat)
- Maple syrup (or honey if not vegan)
- Coconut oil
- Light (sifted) spelt flour
- Sea salt
- Cardamom or vanilla (optional)
- Lemon juice
- Coconut sugar
Making the Dough
This is the method I most often use for any sweet yeasted dough (like cinnamon rolls). The milk is heated then coconut oil and maple syrup are added and poured into a large bowl – this melts the oil and should bring the milk down to the right temperature to add the yeast. As mentioned below, the milk mix should be just warm to the touch before adding yeast.
After the yeast is whisked in to the milk, it rests for about 15 minutes. It should be foaming and visibly increased in volume. Part of the flour, salt, and spices are added now and mixed in, then more flour until it becomes too difficult to mix with a wooden spoon.
The dough is tipped out onto a clean, floured surface for kneading. (All of this can also be done in a standing mixer.) Adding flour as you knead will give you a better idea of how much flour is needed as you go, because different types and brands of flour absorb liquid at different amounts. That’s also why the flour is always given in a range.
After kneading for several minutes, you should have a soft, smooth dough. Avoid adding more flour than the recipe calls for – try kneading for a bit longer first, then add a touch of flour if it’s way too sticky. It should be soft and pliable but not gooey.
Grease the mixing bowl with some coconut oil and place the kneaded dough into it, turning it a couple times to coat the outside in oil. Cover with a tea towel or plate and set it aside to rise. This should be about an hour, but it might be shorter or longer depending on ambient temperature.
Making the Cake
Once the dough has doubled in size, it’s time to press it into a baking sheet. Line it with parchment or the dough may stick. You can roll the dough out if you prefer, but I usually just use my hands to press it into a mostly even layer. Set this aside to rise again while you make the streusel and prep the rhubarb.
After about 20 minutes, top it off with the rhubarb and streusel topping. If your yeasted base seems a bit flat still and hasn’t done much, let it proof longer. It should be risen slightly (not doubled) and soft. The cake needs about 35 minutes in the oven – the topping will be browned, but the cake base will still be soft.
It’s best the day it’s baked, but still good a day or two later. The topping softens a bit as it sits because of the liquid in the rhubarb, but it’s not bad. Serve it with coconut whipped cream or yogurt, or enjoy it plain.
Several readers have had success making this recipe gluten-free by using a 1:1 GF blend like the mix from Bob’s Red Mill. I haven’t personally tested this and can’t offer guarantees, but it seems to work pretty well.
All-purpose white flour can be substituted for the spelt if you prefer, as can cane sugar for the coconut sugar. The recipe notes the amounts for both fresh and dry yeast – dry can be either instant or traditional.
If you’d like to make this at times of year when rhubarb isn’t in season, a number of fruits can be used in its place. Plums and apples are traditional, but apricots, peaches, blueberries, and many others are good too. It will be quite a bit sweeter when using alternatives due to rhubarb’s natural tartness.
There are a number of notes here, but they don’t mean the recipe is complicated – just that I want you to succeed even if you’ve never made a yeasted cake before. Please read through this if you haven’t and keep them in mind as you go through the recipe.
The milk mixture cannot be too hot before mixing with the yeast. If it is, it’ll kill the yeast. Use your fingertip to gauge this – it should be skin temperature or just barely warmer, and definitely not uncomfortably warm to touch.
If you don’t think your milk was too hot and it still didn’t bubble 15 minutes after adding the yeast, your yeast was dead and you need to buy new. Yeast should be refrigerated to keep it fresh for a longer time.
The amount of flour is given as a range because it depends on the humidity of you home. The end goal is a soft dough that just barely sticks to your hands, so add the amount of flour needed for that.
It generally takes a couple of hours for my dough to rise fully, unless it’s a very warm and sunny day (rare here). Yours may rise much faster in a warm house, or a bit slower in a very cool place. Keep in mind that it needs time, same as any other bread, but it will vary a bit.
Your streusel might be a little more or less crumbly depending on your flour, how dry your sugar is, and the humidity. If it’s too wet, it usually needs more flour. If it’s holding together but not really crumbling, add more sugar. If it’s too dry then sparingly add more oil. Add small amounts until you get the consistency you want. The milk makes the streusel act a bit more like a butter-based version when baking (butter is fat and water, not pure fat like coconut oil).
If your coconut oil is very hard, if it’s been stored in a cold place, using your hands to mix it with the streusel ingredients will heat it enough to incorporate. Alternatively, if it’s melted, measure it out and then refrigerate until hardened.
There’s no need to peel the rhubarb for this recipe. Adding a tiny bit of lemon and sweetener isn’t completely necessary, but really improves the taste of the fruit. If you use a different fruit, still mix with the lemon juice and maple syrup beforehand.
More Rhubarb Recipes
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- 250 ml (1 cup) non-dairy milk
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) maple syrup (or honey)
- 60 grams (1/4 cup) coconut oil
- 20 grams fresh yeast, 1/2 of a cube or 2 teaspoons dry yeast
- 525 to 600 grams (3 1/2 to 4 cups) light spelt flour
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder (optional)
- 1 cardamom pod, ground (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 500 grams (3 cups) rhubarb, chopped, or around 6 stalks
- Juice of a lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup (or honey)
- 150 grams (1 cup) light spelt flour
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
- 60 grams (1/4 cup) coconut oil*
- 1 tablespoon non-dairy milk
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Pinch sea salt
- Place the milk, maple syrup, and coconut oil to a small saucepan and heat on low until the coconut oil is melted and the mixture is just warm to the touch.
- Pour this mixture into a large mixing bowl and crumble/sprinkle the yeast over it. Let this sit for 15 minutes, or until it is bubbling or foaming, before adding the remaining ingredients.
- Add 1 cup of flour, along with the vanilla, salt, and cardamom to the mixing bowl and stir to combine. Stir in another 1 cup of flour, then start adding it in 1/2 cup increments, stirring to fully incorporate between each addition.
- Once it becomes too difficult to stir, generously flour a large surface (your countertop) and turn the dough out to knead it. Knead for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until a smooth, soft dough forms.
- Grease a large mixing bowl and place the finished dough in it to rise. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and place it in a warm place, like your oven with the light on, for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Preheat your oven to 180C / 350F and line a large baking sheet (or two smaller ones) with parchment paper. Gently punch the dough down and then place it onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Use your hands to press the dough into the pan, going from the centre to the edges, until it is about the same thickness throughout. Cover this with a tea towel again to rise slightly while you cut the rhubarb and prepare the streusel.
- Add the rhubarb in an even layer over the cake, then top with the streusel, going right into the corners. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the edges of the cake are golden. Remove from the oven and let it cool before serving. Serve with coconut whipped cream or yogurt.
- Coarsely chop the rhubarb and place it into a bowl with the lemon juice and maple syrup. Use your hands or a wooden spoon to coat the fruit, then add it to the cake.
- Add all of the ingredients to a bowl and use your hands to squeeze the ingredients together until a crumbly mixture forms. Sprinkle over the rhubarb onto the cake in an even or chunky layer.
See the full post for substitutions and full recipe notes and tips.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 402Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 42mgCarbohydrates: 76gFiber: 11gSugar: 15gProtein: 15g
This data is provided by a calculator and is a rough estimation of the nutritional information in this recipe.