Sweet Cornmeal Cake Recipe (Easy)
There are many recipes for cornmeal cakes in the South, either sweet cakes for dessert or cornmeal griddle cakes. There are cornmeal cakes in Brazil, sweet Bolo de Fuba, made with a higher than usual cornmeal to flour ratio, often with corn oil and buttermilk for fat. The cornmeal cake that I am familiar with and love, is, of course, Italian in its approach. It contains olive oil and some butter for the fat, and citrus flavors. It is a dense, slightly sweet cake, with a tight crumb, often adorned only with a citrus-flavored sugar syrup.
The featured recipe for CookClub, Recipe No. 26, is from a new cookbook by Zoe Nathan, Huckleberry: Stories Secrets and Recipes from Our Kitchen. Zoe and her husband, Josh Loeb, own a bakery in Santa Monica, California, Huckleberry Bakery and Café. This cornmeal cake recipe is unusual in that the recipe contains yogurt and ricotta cheese. I wondered how those ingredients would impact the flavor, and more so, the texture of my usual, beloved, Italian-inspired Polenta Cake. So, I decided to make two cornmeal cakes, one following the CooKClub featured recipe, and one using my favorite recipe, which is Italian-inspired, but authored by an American living in Paris, David Lebovitz, from his cookbook, Ready for Dessert : My Best Recipes, page 62, Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Rosemary.
Please refer to the Tampa Bay Times CookClub site for Zoe’s recipe and for lovely photos of Janet Keeler’s outcome
Here is what I learned! Zoe Nathan’s version of Cornmeal Cake is dense, very moist, has a beautiful rise and absolutely luscious flavor! Here’s the primary difference: this cake contains four sources of fat. The recipe calls for ricotta cheese, yogurt, butter and vegetable oil, which contribute to the wonderful moist crumb and the distribution of flavor over your tongue. The ratio of cornmeal to flour in the two recipes is similar, but the higher fat content in Zoe’s recipe accounts for the tremendous moisture and denser, softer crumb. Delightful!
I made only a few alterations in Zoe’s recipe and technique. When I read about the fragility of the cake and difficulty turning it out of a cake pan and placing it face side up on a cake plate, I decided to do two things. One thing was to bake it in a spring form pan, and the second thing was to not only butter the pan, but to dust if with cornmeal. I had no difficulty moving the beautiful cake from the pan to the plate.
The second alteration was to use half pure lemon extract and half pure orange extract in place of the vanilla. I simply thought that these citrus flavors would contrast the maple syrup in the recipe and the berries well. For the final sprinkling of sugar prior to baking, I used a maple sugar that I had in my spice cabinet. Here is Zoe’s recipe, paraphrased here.
Zoe Nathan’s Cornmeal Cake Recipe
Yields 1-9 or 10 inch cake
3/4 cup plus 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cute into small cubes, at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar and additional 2 Tablespoons to sprinkle on top of the cake prior to baking
1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 and 1/2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract I used half orange and 1/2 lemon extract)
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoon whole plain yogurt
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon ricotta
1 cup fresh berries (I used a combination of blackberries and raspberries, as they looked good at the market)
Butter and line a 10 inch cake pan (I buttered a 9 inch spring form pan and dusted it with cornmeal)
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk well to combine (I added this step).
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with mixer til light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add 1 egg at a time and beat until well incorporated, scraping the bowl as needed.
With the mixer on low speed, add the oil, yogurt, ricotta, extracts, maple syrup and flour mixture, beating until just combined. Do not over mix this batter.
Spoon the thick, fragrant batter into the pan, distributing evenly. Top with the berries and 2 Tablespoons of sugar. (I would use a flavored or demera sugar for good flavor and some sparkle).
If you use a spring form pan, then place a sheet of foil under your pan to catch any butter that may leak)
Bake for 1 hour or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. My cake took 80 minutes, likely due to the depth of the 9 inch spring form pan.
This cake is best when served the day it is baked, but can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 2 days.
This is one gorgeous cake, and I am gifting it to my neighborhood association board for their meeting tonight!
Now, for the Italian-inspired version.
Polenta Cake with Olive Oil and Rosemary, adapted from Ready for Dessert, My Best Recipes, by David Lebovitz, page 62
Please refer to David’s book for the original recipe. I have paraphrased it here, with my few, small alterations.
- ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes
- 6 teaspoons total fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
- ¾ cup plus 2 Tablespoons polenta
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup olive oil
- 5 eggs, room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
- ½ teaspoon almond extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used 1.2 teaspoon lemon, ½ teaspoon orange, just a preference)
- 1 and ⅓ cups sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degress F.
- Butter a 10 inch bundt, tube or a 9 inch spring form pan with the 1 Tablespoon of butter. Dust it with the 2 Tablespoons of polenta.
- In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, olive oil and extract.
- In a third bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
- While the mixer is running, dribble in the egg mixture a little at a time, until well-incorporated.
- Stir in the flour mixture and the 4 teaspoons of rosemary until well-combined, but do not over mix.
- Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 40 minutes until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Allow it to cool for 30 minutes and then invert onto a cake plate.
I served this cake with a Fresh Blueberry Compote–1 and 1/2 cups of blueberries, cooked for just a few minutes with 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar. I limited the cooking time, because I wanted the berries to hold their shape. David Lebovitz makes a Blueberry Compote, contained in the same cookbook, with gin! Alas, no gin in the house, so I used lemon juice! I garnished the cake with some slices of crystallized ginger.
A tale of two cakes! What were the differences? The olive-oil rosemary polenta cake has that savory nuance of rosemary and olive oil and a more rustic texture and appearance. It has a more noticeable flavor of cornmeal. So, if you are looking for a more savory, cornmeal flavored, rustic Italian-style cake, this is it. But, Zoe’s version of a Cornmeal Cake recipe is the one to choose when you want a more refined, softer crumb, sweeter, moister cornmeal cake.
The surprise flavor here is the slight flavor of maple. I enhanced that a bit by topping the cake prior to baking with maple sugar, but you could alter the flavors by using some dried lavender and lemon zest rather than maple syrup and by dusting the top of the cake prior to baking with lavender-vanilla sugar.
If you try these recipes, or perhaps yet another version of cornmeal cake, please share your experiences in the kitchen by commenting below!