Southern cornbread is as minimalist as can be—no flour, no sugar, no egg, all depending on who you ask. Meanwhile, Northeastern cornbread is practically cake—lots of flour, sugar, and eggs. And in this recipe, it is cake. Corn cake. The layers are cornmeal-based with plenty of buttermilk, sunny egg yolks, and enough oil to keep the texture tender. The mixing method here is calling reverse-creaming: By incorporating the butter into the dry ingredients (sort of like a biscuit or scone), you end up with a light, fluffy texture. The vanilla buttercream is American-style, which is to say: simple as heck. Just throw everything in the mixer and go. Technically, all you need is confectioners’ sugar and butter, but I like adding a big pour of heavy cream, which makes the frosting even fluffier, and a generous amount of salt, for balance; feel free to adjust the amount of salt to your personal preference. A cream cheese or fruity frosting, like blueberry or blackberry, would be great here, too. Think of it as a cross between buttered cornbread and yellow layer cake—perfect for a birthday or just-because party or bad day. If you want to break up the recipe, you can make the cake layers a day in advance, wrap them well, and leave them on the counter before frosting. If you build the whole cake in advance, keep it in the fridge, but make sure to let it temp up before serving, so the cake layers are soft, not dense. A double-layer 9-inch cake will feed 12 to 16 people. —Emma Laperruque
(2 sticks) unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons
pure vanilla extract
In This Recipe
Make the cake layers: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with circles of parchment. Grease the parchment. (You can use soft butter or baking spray.)
Combine the flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low for a moment, then add the butter and increase the speed to medium-low. Let that go until the butter is completely incorporated. Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in another bowl and whisk with a fork until smooth.
With the mixer on low, slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Stop part-way through to scrape down the bowl and paddle attachment, to make sure the dry ingredients aren’t clumping. Mix until the batter is completely cohesive and smooth.
Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cake pans (a scale really helps here). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and a thin knife inserted in the center comes out completely clean.
When the cake layers are completely cool, make the frosting: Add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low for a couple minutes to break up any clumps. Add the butter and salt and gradually increase the speed to high. Mix until cohesive and smooth, then scrape down the bowl. Add the vanilla and cream, and again gradually increase the speed to high. Mix for about 1 minute, scraping down as needed, until the frosting is fluffy.
Frost the cake: Set one layer on a parchment-lined cake stand, top with about 1 cup frosting, and smooth out with an offset spatula. Set the other layer on top. Add another 1 ½ cups frosting and frost the tops and sides. You can start with a thin layer (called a crumb coat), refrigerate for a bit, then add on another thicker layer (or you can do it all in one go).
Eat right away or refrigerate for later. If you’ve refrigerated the cake for awhile, let it sit out for a bit before serving—it’s better this way.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing stories about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now, she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. See what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.