Just a quick and simple post for today, complete with a quick and simple, but much less-than-ordinary, shortcake (sure to become your new favorite as it has mine). I've taken advantage of the strawberry bounty, but any fruit would be proud to poise atop these light and delicate cakes, made more interesting by the addition of cornmeal. Although you can't really tell from the photos, I used my favorite blue cornmeal (see my lovely corn muffin recipe here), thinking all patriotic and such...red, white and blue for Independence Day. All in all, a stellar recipe to help celebrate the 4th...or any other special occasion you might have.
I had intended on using fresh fruit, macerated with a little sugar, but ended up making a compote (for reasons unknown even to myself). I wish I had stuck with my original idea, as the resulting dessert was a touch too sweet for me. The compote is lovely, with just the barest hint of rosewater, to enhance the berry flavor (which I think rosewater always does) and gives it that lovely touch of exotic. But, I think fresh fruit would pair best with this delicate cake and I will proceed accordingly the next time I make this (like, tomorrow).
I got my original inspiration for this cake from a lovely recipe at Technicolor Kitchen called Pistachio Polenta Pound Cake. I omitted the nuts, cut down on the sugar just a tad, swapped out a bit of the butter with some olive oil and substituted in some lovely barley flour I had sitting in the fridge. The result was fantastic--a light and delicate cake that popped right out of the pans (you got to love any cake that doesn't bring out your inner pirate when trying to extricate the little lovely out of the pan, no?).
Some cake recipes do not tolerate the experimental addition of any whole grain flour very well, and will result in a dense or heavy crumb. That was definitely not the case here. These dreamy shortcakes turned out extremely light, delicate and airy (look at all those holes). Soaking the cornmeal in the yogurt also helps soften the cornmeal, leaving just enough 'bite' to keep things interesting. The level of sweet is just right, so that the fresh fruit of the season can shine and be the star it should. The cornmeal shortcakes would be the perfect foil for every fruit as it comes into season this summer.
A serrated knife slips right through these cakes...I could've made three layers had I been so inclined. A touch of mascarpone cream or whipped cream keeps things festive, but a dusting of powdered sugar would do just as nicely. This recipe should make one large Bundt cake, two dozen cupcakes, or (as in my case) six mini Bundts and nearly one dozen cupcakes (still mulling over what mischief I'll get into with the cupcakes...mini shortcakes?...filled cupcakes?...boozy trifle?).
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt (not Greek)
1 cup cornmeal (I used blue, but white or yellow will work fine)
1 1/2 cups all purpose non-bleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour of choice (I used barley flour, but spelt, whole wheat pastry flour, or any other whole grain flour will do)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cup sugar, preferably natural
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the cornmeal and yogurt, and let stand for 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the softened butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl for two minutes. Add the olive oil and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the paddle and sides of the bowl periodically. Mix in the vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients (flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the sugar/egg mixture, and continue alternating with the 1/2 the yogurt/cornmeal mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated. Grease your pan of choice (I used six mini Bundts plus muffin tins) and scrape the batter into the prepared pan (or into muffin liners), smoothing out the top. Only fill 2/3 full. Bake until lightly golden and a tester comes out clean, approximately 25 minutes for small cakes (the original recipe says 45 to 50 minutes for one large Bundt). Prepare the fresh fruit or fruit compote while the cake is baking (additional instructions to follow). Cool cakes in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert directly onto the rack. Cool completely before serving. Serve with fresh fruit of choice. If using strawberries, prepare the berries (wash, de-stem, hull and quarter) and mix with a couple of tablespoons of sugar to taste. Set aside until the fruit has macerated slightly, an hour or so, or while the cakes are baking.
1 pound fresh fruit (if using strawberries, wash, de-stem, hull and slice into quarters)
1/4 cup natural sugar
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon rosewater (optional)
Place prepared fruit in a medium saucepan with the sugar and zest. Bring gently to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for approximately 20 minutes until the fruit softens and the juices thicken. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Stir in the rosewater or other flavoring of choice. Cool in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.