Bake

Corn Cake

March 27, 2021
5 Stars
Photo by Ty Mecham
Author Notes

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

  • Prep time 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Makes 1 double-layer 9-inch cake
Ingredients
  • Cornmeal cake
  • 2 cups (256g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups (350g) granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups (150g) cornmeal, preferably finely ground
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cubed
  • 2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Vanilla buttercream
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jenna
    Jenna
  • Regine
    Regine
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • ChuckZombie
    ChuckZombie
Emma is the food editor 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., and writing about the history of pie in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's award-winning column, Big Little Recipes (also the cookbook in November 2021!). And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

9 Reviews

ChuckZombie November 17, 2020
I used a honey buttercream for a different flavor, but this was one of the best cakes I've ever had. Mine came out a little dense, but that's probably my fault.
 
ChuckZombie November 17, 2020
Mine turned out a little dense, but it was probably one of the best tasting cakes I've ever had.
 
Jenna September 13, 2020
After a lifetime of baking, I have been making a lot of layer cakes in the past year, paying close attention to the flavors, texture, and crumb quality. This surprising corn cake delivers what has been the BEST cake--absolutely melting, perfect, moist, almost beguiling in the mouth. It's flavor is rather unusual, like light vanilla corn. It is also a lovely sunny color. My overall impression, though, was that this particular frosting does not match the exquisite cake. The frosting, to me, seems overly sweet and insipid--just a big, crunchy, rather one-note sugar hit. I also thought that a third element would benefit this cake, such as a raspberry sauce or jam layer. I haven't figured out what would be the perfect frosting but intend to experiment. Don't let this stop you from trying this superb dessert, it is definitely worth a try, and even with this very frosting makes an unusual and sophisticated impression. (Yet surely kids would scarf it, too, especially with some colored sprinkles packed around the edge.).
 
Emilette June 27, 2020
made for my daughter's birthday. A huge hit with our entire family. The sweet & salty frosting tastes almost too sweet and rich on its own, but pairs perfectly with the cake.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 27, 2020
So happy to hear this and happy birthday to your daughter!
 
acdeville February 26, 2020
SO good!!! It really is a hybrid cornbread/cake recipe- which was exactly what I was looking for.
 
Regine August 16, 2019
I just saw your recipe. I am intrigued by it and I can tell it is going to be delicious based on the recipe itself and DocSharc's remarks. I am going to make it. I also see you like the reverse creaming method. So do I. I find that it makes a cake even more soft and finer. I now convert all recipes that use the original creaming method (sugar with butter) with the reverse creaming method. Check out my new pound cake recipe which I just posted. It is called "A New Best Pound Cake, Condensed Milk and All."
 
DocSharc August 12, 2019
I made this with a dark chocolate buttercream and it's absolutely delightful. The texture of the cake is so so good. It's rich and moist with a little tang from the buttermilk and grit from the cornmeal. It tastes like something my grandma would have made. I will definitely be making this again!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 12, 2019
Mmmm dark chocolate buttercream sounds delicious!