Cornmeal Cake is somewhere between a cobbler and cake. Unlike a cobbler, the fruit is served on the side. And, unlike most cakes, the batter is quickly assembled in a bowl without a mixer or worrying about creaming the butter and sugar, adding the ingredients in thirds, or folding in egg whites. It’s a sweet and sturdy version of a yellow cake and would be delicious with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, or sliced peaches. Right now, strawberries are in season in the Southeast so strawberries, it is!
When I was 18 I went to visit my friend Alton in London. I was supposed to be there for 2 weeks. Instead, I got a job as a waiter and stayed 2 ½ additional months! It was an incredible summer. We both worked and spent every penny on eating out. We had a blast. Well, except for almost getting arrested outside of Buckingham Palace. We thought we’d have a better view of the palace from the base of the Victoria Monument. Yes, there was wine involved. We were also young and foolish. We thought we’d have a better view from the base of the monument. They were pretty serious about barricades, it seems. I wound up jumping off the back trying to escape Bobbies on foot, in black patent heels, mind you. I was not successful. Now? We’d be put under the jail, for certain. Phew.
Strawberries and Cream
Another memorable day I headed off to see Kew Gardens on my own on a train outside my normal travel zone. Founded in 1759, this Royal Botanic Garden is also UNESCO world heritage spot. Kew’s mission is to be the global resource for plant and fungal knowledge, to build an understanding of the world’s plants and fungi. At the very heart of Kew Gardens is science; it’s managed by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. On the way to my outing, I stopped at a market and bought strawberries and clotted cream to enjoy in the park. When I walked up to the gate and counted my heavy English coins I sadly discovered I didn’t have enough money to visit the gardens and also return home with the higher fare! So, I sat on the park bench looking through the gate at the beautiful landscape eating my strawberries and cream. Silly girl. I still think of that experience anytime I taste strawberries! And, sadly I still have yet to visit Kew Gardens.
My memory might be tinged with a bit of sadness, but strawberries and cream are a classic combination, especially in England. Bright, juicy, strawberries bathed in rich, decadent cream is a timeless pairing. Some things just go together like peas and carrots or bread and butter. As a cook and food writer, I am very intrigued by how flavors work and the science behind ingredient pairing. Flavor is a complex subject and it is highly unusual for one single substance to be responsible for the flavor of a particular food. Usually, there is a mélange of volatile compounds present. And, other senses, as well as taste and smell, maybe involved – sight, touch, and even sound. Science is the reason that this traditional duo tastes so good. Fat affects how volatile compounds are released in our mouths and, ultimately, how the flavor gets perceived. You’ve likely heard of the basic tastes: sour, salty, bitter, sweet, and savory, or umami. Scientists now think we also have flavor receptors for fat! The miraculous combination of strawberries and cream is happening at a molecular level.
Lighten Up, Y’all
These days I most often make a sweetened yogurt I call Vanilla Cream as a dessert topping. Now, it’s not a replacement for whipped cream — it’s something different. My combination of low-fat yogurt, confectionary sugar, and real vanilla bean is more healthful than whipped cream. (You’ll find the recipe included in the recipe for the Cornmeal Cake.)
Cornmeal is one of my favorite ingredients. I love its natural sweetness, bright flavor, the toothsomeness, and versatility. While there’s a flour shortage, it’s nice to consider cakes that aren’t all flour. This cake calls for a mere 1 1/4 cups of flour. For more about cornmeal, check out this post on Ground Corn 101. I am very much interested in shopping and supporting small farms and food businesses online — we’ve got to help them survive! Some of my favorite meals can be found at the following websites. Check them out.
Do you have a mill that you love and want to support? Please leave the name and website in the comments. Thanks for reading and stay safe.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
PS This Friday, May 8th I’ll be featuring the new book Buttermilk Kitchen by Suzanne Vizethann in my weekly Instagram cookbook giveaway. Lot’s of great cornmeal recipes! Make sure to check it out. Also, join me on Fridays at 2:00 for a Facebook Live all about cookbooks!
For the cake:
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the berries:
- 1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced, for serving
- 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon strawberry liqueur, optional
For the vanilla cream:
- ½ cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
- 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Heat the oven to 350 F. Place the butter in the skillet and transfer to the oven. Heat until the butter is lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine all the dry ingredients. Set aside. Combine the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla extract. Set aside. Remove the skillet with the butter from the oven to cool slightly. Pour the melted browned butter into the dry ingredients. Add the reserved egg-buttermilk mixture. Stir to combine. (The batter will be thick.) Spoon the batter into the skillet and transfer to the oven. Bake until golden brown and the cake is starting to pull away from the sides of the skillet, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the strawberries. Taste and add sugar, as needed. Drizzle over the strawberry liqueur. Stir to combine and set aside.
Combine the yogurt, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla extract. To serve, once the cake has cooled to warm use a serrated knife to slice into wedges. Serve with strawberries and vanilla cream.
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