lemon cornmeal cake

this is another of my attempts to create a cornmeal-containing confectionery without the grit of cornmeal. I’ve come to two conclusions amidst all this testing: one, not many people find the grittiness an issue (and some don’t even find it a problem) and two, that perhaps I shouldn’t be using cornmeal for my cornbread/cake.

my research has turned up an incredible array of information, such as the difference between polenta and cornmeal (no difference really except size in some cases), other types of ground corn such as masa (processed with limescale) and the different denominations of corn such as cornmeal, cornstarch or cornflour – all different from each other and the names seem to be exchangeable in other countries for the same thing. it’s a confusing jumble out there, and especially so when you want to make a gritless cake that seems contrary to the other versions out there.

I haven’t succeeded with this cake in making something gritless, just as with my honey corn muffins before, but it turned out into a beautiful buttery and lemony cake with a fine moist crumb interspersed with crunchy cornmeal.

what I did with this recipe was soak the cornmeal overnight in milk which I thought might help, but didn’t seem to make a difference. I’ve thought up a few possible solutions:

  1. Steam the cornmeal before using (and hence reducing the liquid in the cake somewhat) but I think this requires quite a bit more guesswork;
  2. Use a buttermilk-based recipe so that acid has some time to work on the cornmeal;
  3. My favourite (and I think most likely solution) is to microwave the cornmeal in the milk so it  cooks and then letting it cool before incorporating into the batter. this way you don’t have to figure how much liquid to add/remove!

this recipe is an adaptation from orangette‘s cornmeal cake, and she writes so beautifully that I didn’t really change much here, except for some orange zest and converting the recipe into metric measurements. I hope you try this, because even though the grittiness is still there (and is supposed to be), it was a beautifully fluffy yellow cake, both comforting and simple. I omitted the warmed jam, and it wasn’t needed.

orange cornmeal cake (adapted from Orangette)

60g cake flour
3 tbsp fine-ground cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
60g/ml milk (I used skimmed)
0.5 tsp vanilla extract
56g unsalted butter, room temperature
105g castor sugar
1 large egg
zest of 1 medium orange

    1. prepare your cornmeal now as you’d like. I soaked mine overnight in milk, but as I mentioned, that made no real difference. I recommend microwaving! (and then letting me know how it goes). just make sure whatever you choose, let the mixture come to room temperature before you proceed.
    2. preheat oven to 180C. grease and flour the sides of your cake pans (I used 2 mini bundt pans), and tap off excess.
    3. whisk the cake flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside. combine the soaked/cooked-cornmeal-with-milk mixture and the vanilla extract, and also set aside.
    4. beat the butter in a medium bowl until creamy. adding sugar gradually, continue on high until smooth and thoroughly blended. add the egg and zest and beat well, remembering to scrape down your bowl. fold in the flour mixture in 3 batches (you can use a whisk if the flour doesn’t seem to fold in well, but mix slowly and thoroughly), alternating with the milk mixture, and ending with the flour. spread the batter evenly in the pan and smooth the top.
    5. bake the cake until a toothpick in the centre comes out clean and the cake is golden. cool the cakes in their pans for 10-15 minutes before unmolding onto a wire rack to cool completely.
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