Tag Archives: cornmeal

Lemon, Almond, and Cornmeal Cake

23 Apr

For a while there, we were eating a lot of cake.  I brought this up a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating because, after I brought it up the first time, we continued to eat cake, and lots of it.  It’s not like we were just sitting around while stuffing cake in our mouths (at least, we mostly weren’t doing that).  There were dinner parties and birthdays and then, um, Cake Tuesdays, which is not a real thing but now that I’ve mentioned it right here, I sort of want to make it a real thing.  The point is, a lot of cake was made, and a lot of cake was enjoyed.

Most of the cakes I made over the past few weeks were old favorites.  This dark chocolate zucchini cake and this butter cake made appearances (the butter cake is an old standby of mine, but that blood orange curd was a new addition and, boy howdy, was it a fantastic one), as did a newly conceived cupcake.  Another new addition to my baking repertoire was this lovely number from Nigella Lawson and, though I hesitate to play favorites when it comes to cake, I think I might have found a new best friend.  Not Lawson (lovely as she is).  The cake.

With a base of both almond meal and cornmeal, this cake’s structure is just a delight.  It’s crumbly but moist, and the slight bite of the cornmeal adds a little something special.  Once the entire thing is soaked, whilst still warm, with an intensely lemony syrup, that little something special magically becomes a whole lot of something special, and I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t totally consumed by this cake (while I simultaneously consumed it, as it were).  Like I said, I don’t want to hurt any other cake’s feelings by declaring favorites, but this is a cake you definitely want to get to know.  Perhaps with a few friends, a pot of coffee, and a lazy afternoon of chit chat, because if you truly love your friends, you’re going to want to get them in on this cake as well.

Last year: Yeasted Buttermilk Biscuits

Lemon, Almond, and Cornmeal Cake Recipe

Adapted from Nigella Kitchen, by Nigella Lawson

I’ve made a few changes to this cake in both ingredients and process, mostly notably in the form of reducing the sugar in both the cake and the syrup. By reducing the sugar in the syrup topping, but not reducing the lemon juice (and then adding a bit of zest to the mix), you get a clearer, brisker lemon topping that just makes this cake a total showstopper. There are a couple more tweaks here and there, but I’d still say this cake is definitely Nigella Lawson’s and not mine.

2/3 cup granulated sugar

zest of 2 large lemons

1 ¾ sticks (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus a tad more for greasing the pan)

2 cups almond meal or almond flour

¾ cup finely ground cornmeal

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

3 large eggs, at room temperature

For the Syrup:

Juice of 2 lemons

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan, then line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and lemon zest and process until the sugar is finely ground and the lemon zest is incorporated.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, combine the sugar and lemon zest with the butter.  Beat together until pale and whipped.

In a medium bowl, combine the almond meal, cornmeal, and baking powder.  With the mixer still mixing, add 1/3 of the almond mixture to the butter, followed by 1 egg.  Continue beating in the remaining almond mixture and eggs in this fashion, adding one after the other.  When the last egg has been added, beat the batter until everything is fully incorporated, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes.  The cake will be done when the edges begin to shrink away from the sides of the pan.  The middle of the cake will appear a bit underdone, but a cake tester inserted into the middle should come out marginally clean with several moist crumbs still attached.  Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool, leaving the cake in the pan.

To make the syrup, gently boil together the lemon juice, lemon zest, confectioner’s sugar, stirring all the while, until the sugar has completely dissolved into the juice.  Prick the top of the still-warm cake all over with a toothpick or cake tester, then spoon the warm syrup all over the cake.  Allow the cake to cool almost completely before taking it out of its pan.  (Lawson recommends allowing the cake to cool completely, but I found this cake to be even more fabulous when served just barely warm.  You definitely don’t want to serve this cake while it is hot, but anything just a few degrees warmer than room temperature is perfect, I think.)

Roasted Poblano Johnnycakes

5 Apr

I grew up reading the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original nine volume set of semi-autobiographical books about pioneer life.  As a harbinger of interests to come, one of the things I remember most enjoying about the books was Laura’s descriptions of the foods she and her family ate.  When times were good and they had a home with four walls, a well-tended garden, and tidy fields of wheat and corn crops, her family ate fresh garden vegetables and fresh homemade cottage cheese.  When times were rough and months were spent living in a covered wagon or outliving seven straight months of blizzards, they ate bread, potatoes, and, if they were lucky, whatever wild game they could shoot.  Every single thing they ate was cooked in cast iron or baked within an open fire.

Recently my husband and I started reading the Little House books to our preschool-aged son.  In addition to the occasional on-the-fly edit in order to omit the rather blunt and one-sided talk about the local Native American tribes (the original inhabitants of the land on which Laura’s family was settling), we have spent a great deal of time discussing the different types of food that Laura and her family ate.  (We also spent a great deal of time talking about food when we read Farmer Boy, since a substantial portion of that book is spent discussing the mountains of food that Laura’s husband Almanzo ate when he was a boy—every meal seemed to be presented as an exercise in competitive calorie intake, no doubt as a result of their twelve hours a day of hard manual labor on a farm.)  Much of the food of the era, as well as the manner in which people got that food, is not only unfamiliar to a city-dwelling boy of 4.5 years of age, it’s also nearly unimaginable.  What’s a prairie hen?  What is salt pork?  And did you really just say that Pa shot a bunny rabbit so the family could roast it for Christmas dinner?

Perhaps in an effort to distract our son from the fact that Laura’s Pa could frequently be found shooting and skinning what is regarded, to some people in this house, as being the world’s greatest animal, I decided that we should focus our attention on a pioneer-era food that was less fraught with peril and woe.  That is, in essence, the long story of how I came to make johnnycakes.

As luck would have it, one of my favorite breakfast food bibles, James McNair’s Breakfast, happened to have, smack dab in the center of the book, a simple recipe for Johnnycakes.  A quick perusal of the ingredients led me to some automatic adjustments, namely the immediate realization that these crispy corn cakes were just begging to be paired up with something mildly spicy and smooth to counter the sweetness and crunchiness.  One roasted poblano pepper later, I had exactly what I had imagined.

When paired with a soft fried egg and an additional sprinkle of chopped roasted poblanos, you’ve got yourself one special meal, suitable for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Though not entirely traditional in the pioneer sense, I’d like to think that, were the times good and the livestock thriving, it might even possibly be considered Laura-approved.

Roasted Poblano Johnnycakes

Partially adapted from James McNair’s Breakfast

1 medium-sized poblano pepper

1 cup white flint or other stone-ground cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup milk

Set your oven’s broiler to high heat and place an oven rack on the highest shelf, nearest the heat of the broiler.  Set the poblano pepper on a heavy baking sheet, then place directly under the broiler.  Let the skin of the pepper blister, darken, and flake.  Turn pepper several times, allowing its skin to blister and flake on all sides.  When pepper’s skin has been uniformly darkened, remove pepper from oven and set on a plate, cover with aluminum foil, and allow pepper to cool to the touch and the skin to become loose.  When pepper has cooled slightly, remove the skin.  Remove and discard stem and seeds.  Roughly chop roasted pepper and set aside 1/4 cup to add to the johnny cake batter.

In a bowl, combine the cornmeal and the salt, then gradually add the boiling water, whisking to prevent lumps and integrate cornmeal and water.  Stir in the melted butter, sugar, and milk.  Stir in 1/4 cup chopped roasted poblano pepper.

Meanwhile, heat a griddle or a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, then generously brush with melted butter.

Spoon the batter, about a heaping tablespoon for each cake, onto the cooking surface.  Cook turning once, until crisp and golden on both sides.  Serve hot.  If desired, top with a soft fried egg and an additional sprinkling of chopped roasted poblano pepper.

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