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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.