It’s undeniably September, but I’m going to refrain from writing that kind of a post. On evening runs, it’s getting darker just a touch earlier and, like clock-work, summer is kicking into swing full-force in the Bay Area. We’re good for Indian summers and we’re also known for forgetting they happen each and every year. We all walk around shocked that it’s hot in September when it’s always hot in September. So while I’m excited for all that fall brings, let’s look back at summer for just a second and then talk about cake, shall we?
This is the perfect cake to talk about today because it celebrates summer with fresh corn and berries but also looks towards fall with its sturdiness, dense crumb and complete and total unfussiness. A seasonal “bridge dessert” of sorts. Now we’ve done bridge desserts before: there was the Raspberry Pear Pandowdy a few years ago and last year’s Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galette. Today we’re adding maybe one of my favorites to the line-up with this simple, special Cornmeal Cake with Fresh Corn and Raspberries.
When I do have a little bakery of my own, I will serve this cake. I will serve it in the morning and in the afternoon and I think I’ll bake it in a cast-iron skillet. It’s the kind of cake you want to share with someone: you want to order a very large slice with a healthy dollop of whipped cream, and talk about how wonderful the fresh corn kernels are with the cornmeal, buttermilk and slightly tart berries. How it all works together even though you may have doubted it at first. It’s a stunner, this cake.
And it caps off a stunner of a summer. There was the perfectly still week up at my mom’s cabin on Lake George where we made this banana pudding. Then there was the time I roasted tomatoes, made gougeres, and visited Seattle a few times–meeting wonderful new people and one wonderful new boat. Then remember we ate a lot of summer fruit and made pie and had a few cocktails? Well, a lot of cocktails, really.
There was that major love affair with rhubarb. And chocolate zucchini bread and ice cream. Two kinds of ice cream in fact…and popsicles, too. There were a few good novels, a few good memoirs, not many good movies, a great TV series, a few good hikes, a weekend in Tahoe with my Dad, a wonderful dinner party, a new-to-me restaurant that I can’t get enough of, and a lot of productive work. Balanced and good. Like this cake.
This cake will keep up to three days covered at room temperature. I think it’d be equally lovely with tart blackberries, sour cherries, or whatever fruit is in season that excites you.
Adapted from: Farmers Market Desserts
Preheat the oven to 350 F and oil a 9″ round cake pan. Dust with flour, tap out excess, and set aside.
Measure out 3/4 cup berries and set aside for garnish. Put the remaining 1 1/4 cups berries into a small bowl with the corn kernels and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 2 tablespoons sugar. Stir gently to coat and set aside.
Stir together the remaining 1 cup flour, 3/4 cup sugar, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and olive oil in a small bowl and stir in into the flour mixture until just combined. Gently fold the berries and corn into the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until the top is just golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, around 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan. Once cool, run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto a flat plate, inverting again onto your choice of serving platters.
Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of whipped cream and a handful of fresh berries on top.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: