Tuesday, May 6, 2008

In which I find an excuse to make cake

Last week when I was weighing my options as to how I would use my CSA rhubarb, I was rather surprised at the number of recipes that turned up. Crisps, crumbles, compotes, even a sorbet! Lots of great options. And then on Saturday I came across this recipe, and as some of you know, I have a serious weakness for cake. All it took to seal the deal was a rave review from Katie, whose mom declared it one of the best cakes she'd ever made. (And between you and me and the rest of the blogosphere, that's nothing to sneeze at.)

And so it was decided that rather than a crisp or a crumble, I would have cornmeal cake with rhubarb compote. This cake is all kinds of delicious. It's moist and bright, with a bit of crunch and all around delicious flavor. It's also quick and easy to make. I did not make or buy buttermilk ice cream to have with the cake, but I did top it with some fresh strawberries (in addition to the rhubarb compote, the recipe for which will follow the cake recipe). It is heavenly, and I highly recommend that you try it for yourself.

Cornmeal Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal (I used medium-grind)
1 1/2 teaspoons homemade baking powder*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick, or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons coarsely crushed sugar cubes

Preheat oven to 350F and generously butter a 9-inch cake pan with 2-inch-high sides**. Dust pan with cornmeal, tapping out excess. Sift flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth and fluffy, then beat in orange peel. Gradually add 1 cup sugar and beat until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream and vanilla, then fold in dry ingredients in 3 additions until just incorporated. Transfer batter to prepared pan, smooth top, and sprinkle with crushed sugar cubes.

Bake cake until a tester comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 10 minutes. Run knife around pan sides to loosen. Turn cake out onto plate, then invert, crushed sugar side up, onto rack. Cool completely. To serve, cut into wedges and serve with ice cream, rhubarb compote (recipe follows), and/or fresh fruit. The original recipe says it can be made 8 hours ahead and left at room temperature, wrapped in foil, but after two days under a layer of plastic wrap, it's as moist and delicious as ever!

* The recipe called for homemade baking powder, and now that I realize how easy it is to make it, I might just start making my own all the time. Just combine two parts cream of tartar to one part baking soda and run it through a fine sieve three times. Voilà! It keeps for four weeks in an airtight container at room temperature, and can be used in the same proportions as store-bought baking powder. Note: it might clump after some time in the cupboard, so resift before you use it.

** As I always do when making a cake, I buttered the whole pan, then lined it with a parchment circle, and buttered the parchment as well before dusting it with the cornmeal. When I took the cake out of the pan, the parchment stayed in the pan rather than sticking to the cake, so I suspect you could do without it altogether.

Rhubarb Compote
Makes 10-12 servings

2 cups Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 2-inch-long strips orange peel
2 2-inch-long strips lemon peel
6 cups 1/2-inch pieces fresh rhubarb (about 2 pounds)
1/8 teaspoon salt

Combine wine, sugar, and peels in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add rhubarb and salt and simmer until rhubarb is tender but still retains its shape, about 9 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer rhubarb to shallow dish, arranging in a single layer. Boil wine syrup in saucepan until slightly thickened and reduced to 1 1/4 cups, adding any juices accumulated from the rhubarb, about 5 minutes. Pour syrup over rhubarb and cool, then cover and chill until cold. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep chilled.


Brave Sir Robin said...

That compote sound just down right wicked!!!

Mixed with the (I suspect) somewhat rustic cake, I can see what a winner this would be.

I love rhubarb. We never ate it growing up, but every cookbook or magazine I read, (and trust me, their number was legion), raved about rhubarb and spring, etc. . . . So I bought some and made a simple little crisp.


Anne said...

It's pretty darn good! It's reminiscent of my favorite cranberry sauce, for which red wine, sugar, spices, and a strip of orange peel are simmered together before the cranberries are added. It's just lovely.

I'm definitely getting into rhubarb. I didn't like it much as a kid, but I'm keener on it now. I think that this week I'm getting more in my box, so I plan to make a crisp. What with cornmeal cake, rhubarb crisp, and cashew cookies, it's a good thing I'm ramping up my training! :)

Brave Sir Robin said...

Speaking of "ramping" up your training.

Do you see ramps in your market?

Bee said...

Anne, this sounds wonderful!

Like BSR, I never ate rhubarb back in the Texan day. I really only discovered it in England. I am always looking for rhubarb recipes, as I tend to stay in my crumble rut.

Speaking of ramped-up training, I can't believe it -- but with all of this walking I have not lost one pound! (It seems to be making me very hungry, actually.)

Anne said...

BSR - Good question! I didn't make it to the farmer's market on Sunday (I went to brunch with two of my siblings instead), but I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of the vendors had ramps. I haven't seen them at Whole Foods, but that's not all that surprising. If I'm not in Big Sur this weekend I'll keep an eye out for them at the farmer's market .

Bee - Isn't that odd about the training and (lack of) weight loss? The same is generally true for me, but I confess that I'm hoping my body will make an exception this time and lose the weight that I put on throughout the last few months of thesis stress!

As for hunger, I seem to be affected both ways. Most of the time, my hunger mechanism is actually suppressed. After my two longest events last year, it was days before I felt hungry. But when I do get hungry, it very quickly goes from "eh, not hungry" to "must have food ASAP or my stomach will eat itself!!"

Bee said...

I know that losing weight is not the point, but . . .

(or should I say butt?)

I walked 15 miles today. That should count for something!!

(And exercise only suppresses my appetite immediately afterwards . . . by the time I've had my shower I'm ravenous. Oh yes! RE: your comments on my "green" post, exercising does tend to lead to more showering!!

Anne said...

No, it really isn't. Other than training for specific events, I try to make it about being healthy and fit rather than hitting a certain number on the scale. I don't always succeed, but I'm working on it.

15 miles!!! That is a long way. Well done! Sounds like you're going to be well prepared for your marathon!