Berry Cornmeal Cake

Jordan: It’s bluebs season!

Kitra: I cannot believe you’re still calling them that, and also that I wasn’t expecting you to do it.

In fairness, I haven’t been actively calling them bluebs. Just when I know it’s going to annoy someone.

I don’t find it annoying, just… unsettling? I don’t know. It’s fine, but I also think blueberry is a way more fun word to say. It’s like when people have nicknames that are longer than their actual name. It just seems like a waste?

We can agree to disagree on bluebs versus blueberries. However (segue alert!), I know we agree that cooked blueberries are strongly underrated.

Definitely. People go on and on about the joys of cooked strawberries (which never really break down, and are usually better fresh I will fight you all on this), and raspberries (good, but also how often do you get a really quality raspberry or any raspberry because $$$, let’s be real here) but blueberries are cheap, usually very good, and cook down PERFECTLY. Plus, no chopping!

They really need very little to make them great. Our dad used to make blueberry omelets, which were literally omelets filled with a cooked-down mixture of blueberries and lemon juice and a bit of sugar, and they were perfect. Blueberry compote? Great. Blueberry pie? Great, if you let them do their thing without adding a ton of cornstarch. Blueberry cake? Well, here we are.

I thought “this is way too many berries for this cake” but that has never been the case in the history of butter and flour (see also: all pies ever), so I don’t know why I was suspicious.

The cake itself is a lightly sweetened, cornbread-like base. It’s not anything wildly exciting on its own, but then you dump a bunch of sweetened berries on top and it all comes together. A sugary topping forms a nice crispy crust on top of it all.

I’ll be honest that I love the topping (especially because it asked me to use candied ginger, one of my all time favorite foods), but that I’m not 100% on putting it on top of cornbread. It’s definitely a breakfast cake, which is great. But also, I might do this on a regular coffee cake base another time. I’m also more of a sweet cakes fan than Jordan, who likes her breakfast cakes like I like granola. (With yogurt or milk in a bowl? Why. But, you do you.)

Yeah, I liked that this one was not very sweet. If anything, the topping was almost too sweet for me—but once it had a chance to sit and everything kind of melded together, it turned out great. And yes, I had a slice this morning topped with milk, as if it were cereal, which Kitra found horrifying.

I do agree this cake hits a peak on the second day, when the whole thing seems less arbitrary. Both days it was good, don’t get me wrong! I’m going to eat it all and think back on it fondly, but my brain just couldn’t quite wrap around how the layers worked together. A bit like when you put food on top of rice. The rice is just a base that you don’t really think about. This felt to me on the first day like a topping on cornbread. The second day it felt more like one dish.

Kitra has given a lot of caveats here, but I would recommend it. If you have a bunch of blueberries (or other berries, for that matter) and a desire for cake, you could do much worse than this.

I would also recommend it, just don’t think of it as a “cake” per se. More as a fun breakfast snack!

Which is really what all cakes dream of being, in their heart of hearts.

^^^ yep.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cake

Adapted lightly from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

Notes

Major note on the pan size: The original recipe calls for a 2.5-quart baking dish or a 9”-square cake pan. Jordan used an 8”-square pan, which came out quite thick; Kitra made a half batch in an 8”x5” loaf pan, which gave her almost equal parts cake and berries. We’ve left the original pan recommendation in the recipe below, because it will probably give you a better balance of cake to berries, but know that it’s quite flexible.

Similarly flexible: Kitra made the cake as written, with some ground ginger in the batter and candied ginger in the topping. Jordan skipped both and added some lemon zest to the cake batter. We’ve written it up Kitra’s way/the original way, but if ginger isn’t your thing, you can omit it. Jordan was out of brown sugar and used an equal weight of powdered sugar, which was different but also good.

Use any berries you like here; we recommend blueberries but Jordan did throw a handful of raspberries in as well, and even something like sliced nectarines would work well. Finally, Jordan had no issues using a gluten-free flour here.

Ingredients

Berries

  • 1 lb (3-4 cups) berries, sliced if large
  • ½ cup (100g) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon, rum, brandy, or vanilla extract (optional)

Topping

  • ⅓ cup (67g) brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (30g) flour
  • ¼ cup (45g) candied ginger, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons (4 oz., ½ stick) unsalted butter, soft

Cake

  • 1½ cups (180g) flour
  • ½ cup (80g) cornmeal, preferably fine-ground
  • ½ cup (100g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3 oz., ¾ stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ⅔ cup whole milk

Directions

Thoroughly grease a 2.5-quart baking dish, 9”-square cake pan, or other dish (see note above) with butter. Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a medium bowl, combine the berries, sugar, and alcohol/vanilla. If using blueberries, crush them slightly with a spoon to help them break up. Set the bowl aside while you do the rest.

Next, make the topping. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, candied ginger, and 4 tablespoons butter. Mix together with your fingers or a spoon until it’s cohesive and roughly the consistency of cookie dough; if your butter is too firm for this, you can pop it in the microwave for a few seconds. Put the topping in the freezer while you prepare the batter.

For the cake, in a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: Flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, ginger, and salt. Add the cubed butter and use your fingers to rub everything together until the butter is in small, kind of flaky pieces. Add the eggs and milk and mix until fully combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Spoon the berries evenly over the batter, leaving most of the juices in the bowl. (The juices can get thrown out—though if anyone wants to try just pouring them over the cake and report back to see if it works, feel free. We were concerned that it would be way too much liquid.) Pull the topping out of the freezer and break it off into chunks using a spoon or fork. Scatter the pieces over the top of the cake.

Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes. It’s done when a toothpick, inserted into the center, hits some resistance and comes out free of batter. You may need to poke around a bit to find a spot without as much topping, as poking the middle of a berry/butter puddle will make it hard to tell if it’s done.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before serving. This cake is even better the next day; if you’re not going to eat it in the first day or two, we recommend covering it in plastic wrap and storing it in the fridge.

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