Monday, May 25, 2009

Plain Cakes

I do realize this is Monday--the last Monday in May, in fact, so the last possibility for a May Meatless Monday. And I did, in fact, make a nice vegetarian lunch today for my brother, sister-in-law, nieces and Alex. However, I went with the tried and true and made two recipes I've already written about--the asparagus soup from Greens and the Chard-Onion Torta from Deborah Madison's vegetarian supper book. So, Meatless Monday is going to be postponed for another day, and instead I'm going to write about cake.

Over the years, I've come to the sad conclusion that I'm never going to be a person who makes beautiful desserts. I make really tasty desserts, usually. But they're not beautiful. I noticed this especially a few years ago when it seemed like I had lots of potluck things to go to (like wedding and baby showers) where I brought dessert, and whatever less-than-beautiful dessert I had brought would be sitting there, forlornly, amidst beautifully decorated cupcakes and perfectly frosted cakes and fancy brownies with squiggles of frosting. They'd sit there until someone would, seemingly out of politeness, take a piece of whatever it was I brought, and then the word would spread that it was really good, despite its outward appearance, and suddenly my dessert would join the popular crowd of desserts, and eventually there would only be crumbs left. (This definitely happened when I brought Karen Templer's pumpkin bars to a baby shower for someone who seemed to have an unusually high percentage of friends capable of making lovely desserts. The downside was that once my pumpkin bars were discovered, I didn't have any to take home to have with tea the next morning.)

But I really appreciate cakes that are easy to make and don't use up a lot of dishes and don't require fancy ingredients and maybe aren't the prettiest cakes ever but still taste delicious. One of these is the beloved and still dearly missed Laurie Colwin's Buttermilk Cocoa Cake, from More Home Cooking. (The last one on this page). Another possibility is the Everyday Cake that Molly wrote about in Orangette a few weeks ago. (I haven't made this yet, but one of my colleagues did and said it was great.) And a third is this lemon cornmeal cake.

I have Karen Templer to thank for this one too. She raved about it on the Readerville food thread not long ago, and I bookmarked the recipe. I hadn't actually planned to make this cake today, but after I'd made the rest of the food for lunch, I got a call that my lunch guests were going to be late. I puttered around for a bit, and then I thought, "Well, I could make something else . . . " and I remembered this cake. I got as far as melting the butter and juicing the lemon when everyone arrived. So, later in the afternoon, after we'd already had lunch and an excellent afternoon snack of ice cream from my wonderful local ice cream shop--Mt. Tom's Homemade--and, in fact, after everyone was gone, I remembered the already melted butter and decided to make the cake, despite not actually needing any more dessert.

This was not a one bowl cake, like some easy cakes--there's a dry bowl, a wet bowl and a butter bowl--but it comes together quickly.

It's just a matter of mixing wet and dry ingredients separately, mixing them together, and then pouring the batter in the pan. The glaze is about as easy as a glaze can be. The cake is not beautiful--but you wouldn't expect it to be. It has a lovely texture, from the cornmeal, and tenderness from the buttermilk. It's lightly lemony and entirely irresistible. It does its plain cake brethren proud, and I'll definitely be making it again.

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze and Crushed Blueberry Sauce

From Bon Appetit, April 2009



  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice


  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
  • Crushed-Blueberry Sauce



  • Combine powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons lemon juice in small bowl. Stir with spoon until smooth and paste-like, adding more lemon juice by 1/2 teaspoonfuls if glaze is too thick to spread. Set aside.


  • Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides; line bottom with parchment. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl; whisk to blend. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, lemon peel, and vanilla in small bowl. Pour buttermilk mixture and melted butter into flour mixture. Using rubber spatula, gently fold liquids into flour mixture until just blended (do not stir). Scrape batter into pan; spread evenly.
  • Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and cake pulls away from sides of pan, about 30 minutes.
  • Immediately run knife around sides of cake. Place rack atop cake in pan. Using oven mitts, hold pan and rack firmly together and invert cake onto rack. Remove pan from cake. Place another rack on bottom of cake; invert 1 more time so that cake is top side up. Stir glaze until blended. While cake is still very hot, drop glaze by tablespoonfuls onto cake; spread to within 1/2 inch of edge (some glaze may drip down sides of cake). Cool completely. Serve with Crushed-Blueberry Sauce.
My Notes:

* I only used 1 cup of sugar for the glaze, plus about 2 tbsp. of lemon juice, and I had some left over. I'd go down to maybe 3/4 of a cup of sugar and slightly less lemon juice next time.

* I used 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup all purpose flour. I might also try doing half white whole wheat and half all purpose.

*I didn't make the blueberry sauce, but I'm leaving the link to the recipe in, since I know that lemons and blueberries are a fine combo.

*I only have one cooling rack so couldn't do the complicated pan-rack maneuver they suggest for getting the cake out of the pan. I turned it out onto a plate and then back right side up on the cooling rack so it could cool.


Alison said...

Thank you! I am thinking of making this as a base cake for some of the designs I have in mind. Also, any tips on how to prevent bubbles from forming in this type of cake? Thanks in advance.

training leaders said...

Thank you for this instruction. I'll try to make like this on new years day!