Unwittingly, shamefully, it seems I’ve committed yet another culinary corruption. It was a crime of passion, as most are, born of unrequited cravings stemming from a deep, indecipherable source, compelling yet not entirely comprehensible. True love could hardly be described as rational, illuminating a clear path towards happiness, which is how this particular journey somehow got derailed into delinquency.
Cornbread, soft and sweet, haunted my dreams. Containing an impossibly dense yet fluffy crumb, melting away to a light, satisfying coarse grit on the tongue, this was the stuff of legend, a memory logged long ago during those early formative years that lack clear timestamps. It wasn’t any old Jiffy mix calling to me from beyond the periphery of cognition. It was cornbread you eat as an event by itself, not a mere side dish to a grander spread; cornbread that stole the show.
Without a second thought or further consultation, propelled by sheer passion and blissful ignorance, I tore into the cabinets to assemble my team. Cornmeal, coconut milk, olive oil, and sugar; all guilty by association. Any born and bred southerner could see in an instant where this is going by now, but in the heat of the moment, this uninformed Yankee hadn’t a care in the world.
Encrusted with a crunchy crumb topping and pock-marked with juicy red berries, still hot from the kiss of the oven, it was a sight to behold. Exactly what I had always wanted out of a cornbread without being able to fully verbalize the details, it exceeded expectations in a single bite. Though considerably more decadent than perhaps originally intended, one could hardly hold such delicious extravagance against it.
Hardly an hour passed before I settled in with a glossy food magazine that by some ironic twist of fate focused in on cornbread. Unscrupulously, the author decried the sugared excesses of modern cornbread recipes, claiming that true cornbread should remain entirely austere; unsweetened, unembellished, little more than baked corn puree. Strongly worded with equal parts revulsion and horror, I immediately understood the error of my ways.
Cake. This is corn cake. Are we clear? A mighty fine corn cake at that, but under no circumstances should it be categorized as cornbread. Can I plead innocence if we reconsider the end goal? Don’t call it a side dish and don’t invite it to dinner. Honestly, it won’t be offended! Rather, save it for a midday snack with a glass of iced tea, after the main meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or heck, save yourself a wedge for a rich breakfast treat in the morning.
Truth be told, this crime occurred so long ago that my original corn cake was prepared with red currants, found during a very brief seasonal window, and I was too ashamed to admit my wrongdoing at the time. Thankfully, I can attest that this treat won’t suffer the least bit if you swap them for ripe raspberries, or omit the fruit addition entirely. It’s highly flexible and fairly infallible, even if you prepared it as individual cupcakes. Just remember that this is a cake, through and through, and you’ll be golden.
Cornbread Crumb Cake
1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Fresh Red Currants or Raspberries (Optional)
1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees lightly grease an 8-inch round baking pan; set aside.
Begin by making the crumb topping first. Combine the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil all over and use a fork to mix, forming chunky, coarse crumbs. It may seem dry at first but don’t be tempted to add more liquid; slowly but surely, it will come together, and there’s no need to stress if it remains fairly loose. Set aside.
Moving on to the main cake, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, both types of cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, stirring to thoroughly combine. Add in the currants or raspberries if using and toss to coat. This will help prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom during the baking process.
Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, olive oil, apple sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Once smooth, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to gently incorporate, being careful not to crush the berries or over-mix the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the matrix.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and sprinkle evenly with the crumb topping.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes before slicing and serving, if you can bear the wait. It’s also fabulous at room temperature and can (theoretically) keep for 3 – 4 days if kept wrapped or sealed in an air-tight container.
Makes 8 – 12 Servings