An unpretentious pastry, Vail
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan and cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful. Summer sunshine … that’s what this little cake brings to mind. With the crunch of cornmeal, just a touch of sweetness and the richness of butter and eggs, this pastry is wholesome, unpretentious and as pleasant as a fine August day. A sweet, delicate and more refined cousin of cornbread, I serve it any time and any place. It’s as comfortable at brunch as it is at supper, and it travels with ease to picnics and cookouts. Paired with fresh berries, served slightly warm or at room temperature, the cake is a lovely ending to a casual meal. I use whatever berries are available, sugar them and serve them with a coulis (a sauce made by pureeing some of the berries in a food processor and adding sugar to taste. If the berries have lots of seeds, I strain the puree before adding the sugar). Unaccompanied, the cake can be presented as a rich bread, rather than a dessert. I often serve it this way for brunch or lunch. It’s easy to make. Just be sure to cream the butter and sugar until the two are really light and add the eggs slowly, beating until they are thoroughly incorporated. These two steps are the key to the cake’s delightful texture. You can halve the recipe and make it in a 7-inch springform tube pan, which is a perfect size for four to six people. Cornmeal Cake(Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.)Make in a 9 inch tube springform pan3⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour1⁄2 teaspoon of baking powder1⁄2 teaspoon of salt1⁄2 cup of yellow cornmeal (if you want a lot of crunch, use a courser-grain cornmeal)3 large eggs, at room temperature6 large egg yolks, at room temperature3⁄4 teaspoon of vanilla1 cup of unsalted butter (two sticks) at room temperature1 cup of granulated sugarOptionalFresh, sugared berries Fruit coulis Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Spray the tube pan generously with a vegetable-flour spray, coating the center tube as well as the rest of the pan, or grease and flour it. Make sure the butter, eggs and egg yolks you’ll use in the cake batter are at room temperature. Measure the flour, baking powder, salt and cornmeal into a bowl, and whisk vigorously to mix well and aerate. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolks and vanilla until combined.Place the room-temperature butter and the sugar in a bowl, and beat at medium speed (standing mixer) or medium-high speed (hand-held mixer) until very light in color and consistency. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. This takes me at least five minutes with my standing mixer, so be sure and give this step sufficient time; it makes a big difference in the cake’s texture. In three additions, with the mixer at low or low-medium speed, slowly drizzle the room-temperature egg mixture into the butter and sugar. Beat until the batter is completely blended after each addition, and scrape down the sides of the bowl when it’s necessary.Add the flour mixture, and stir on low speed only until the batter is evenly moistened. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling it no more than two-thirds of the way to the top. Level the batter, and tap the pan lightly on a counter to remove any air bubbles. Place the cake pan, on a baking sheet, in the oven, and bake until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester comes out clean. This takes about 55 minutes in my oven; start checking before that. Remove the cake from the oven, cool it on a rack for about 20 minutes, run a knife around the sides of the pan, and then carefully invert and remove it from the pan to cool completely.Serve the cake warmed slightly or at room temperature. Store leftovers, sealed airtight, in the refrigerator for a day or two. The cake freezes well.This is a variation of a recipe from The Culinary Institute of America.Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com.
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