Every great spring meal is topped off with a light, refreshing dessert. Chef Ned finishes our spring recipe podcast series with this delicious, fruit-based cake dessert that uses some unique ingredients that set it apart from the rest.
John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. I’m here with Chef Ned Grieg, executive chef at Woodman’s and the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. We’re doing a series of podcasts on spring recipes. Our final podcast is on this red cornmeal cake recipe, with crushed blueberry sauce. Welcome, Ned.
Ned Grieg: Good afternoon, John.
John: This sounds really good, and a nice way to maybe end a meal on a nice spring night. Tell me a little about this red cornmeal cake. How do you do that?
The History Behind the Red Cornmeal Cake
Ned: A good friend of mine, who I had met in Vermont at one time, decided he was going to move south, because he liked to play golf. He moved to Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. He was the executive chef of some really lovely restaurants in Charleston.
His son is actually still in the business, and has won a James Beard award for being one of the best executive chefs in the southeast section of the United States.
He used to make this cornmeal cake, when I was down there, and it was served at his restaurant, and I thought it was delicious. It was served with a raspberry sauce, and some homemade ice cream, but I said, “Well, you know what? That’s great, but we’re living up here in New England, and we have to adapt the recipe so it would be a little bit more appropriate for our clientele, and our guests that we may have come over for dinner.”
What Makes This Cornmeal Cake Unique?
Ned: Instead of using yellow cornmeal, there’s red cornmeal added to this, and instead of using a raspberry sauce, we use a blueberry sauce. When spring comes around, I think my first — besides strawberries and rhubarb — I’m waiting for that first crop of blueberries to come up, or the ones that we can pick off our hike boy bushes before the birds decide to nibble on them all.
This cake, you can make it in advance, which is really nice. It actually freezes really well, and then rewarms nicely. It’s all‑purpose flour, cornmeal, sugar, and baking powder are your dry ingredients. The liquid ingredients that go into them are vanilla extract, lemon zest, fresh eggs, and buttermilk.
The buttermilk reacts with the baking powder quite a bit, and that’s what gives the leavening agent to the cake, to keep it light and delicate. The red cornmeal just colors the flour. It’s like a pastel color. It isn’t like a red velvet cake where you’re going to have this rich dark red color to it.
I bake them in individual little aluminum cups, or you can do them in muffin tins. I’ve also, when I owned a restaurant, I’d make them in a 10‑inch round, and then I’d just cut them in wedges, because it was easier for me to serve when I had to do many of them like that.
The cake is easy to make. It’s a lot more light and delicate than you think it is. Don’t be afraid of all the two pounds of melted butter that go into it. The butter also helps keep it all together, and gives it a richness.
John: Does it end up being like a cornbread, or is it less grainy than that?
Ned: It has a little bit of grain to it, but it’s not cornbread. It’s a cake, because there’s sugar in it.
John: There’s flour ‑‑ the regular flour, as well.
Ned: If you go down south, and you ask for cornbread, you never get any sugar in your cornbread. You only find that in the north. We just took this recipe that my friend gave me, and changed the color, and made it a little bit lighter by putting the buttermilk in.
He used to use whole milk. He used to use oil instead of melted butter. The melted butter just gave it a richness and more of a cake taste.
How to Make the Blueberry Sauce
Ned: The blueberry sauce ‑‑ it’s fresh blueberries. You crush the blueberries as you’re cooking them. Some of them go into a pot, about half of them, with brown sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and just a pinch of salt. The pinch of salt brings out the taste of the lemon, and the sugar, from the natural sugars from the blueberries.
You simmer them for a bit, and then you take a potato masher, and you’re going to crush your blueberries just a little bit. It releases some pectin, which thickens up your sauce. This blueberry sauce, you don’t want it running all over the place on you. You want it to stay in place a little bit.
John: You cook it down so that there ends up being less juice in it, and it thickens it up a little bit?
Ned: Yes. That’s what you call reducing, or reduction, and you’re going to see the volume of the blueberries, once you crush them, they release quite a bit of juice. You’re probably going to simmer this from anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, just depends on how long you’re stirring it over there.
If you go low and slow, it will take 30 minutes, and you won’t have to stir it. If you want to cook it faster, just turn the heat up. I suggest using a Teflon‑based pot when you do this, because there’s nothing worse than burning sugar on a pot.
If you do, the best way to get a burned pot off, don’t sit there and scrub it all day. When you turn on your Weber grill the next time, get it as hot as possible, you keep your pot dry, and then you just put it on top of the fire, come back 15 minutes later, and it will burn all that charred stuff that you can’t even chisel off with the back of a heavy duty spoon.
It all just blisters off, and then you can just wash your pot. It will be done in 15 minutes, instead of working on it for five days.
Assembling the Cake
Ned: Once the cake is made, you turn it upside down onto a little plate, and then you make this little lemon glaze. It’s just taking powdered sugar and lemon juice, like you put a drizzle over the top of a coffee cake. You just puddle it with the warm blueberry sauce.
If you wanted to do something else, yes, you could probably put a little scoop of whipped cream on there, or make some homemade vanilla gelato ice cream. That would go really well with it, as well.
When I was applying for the position of executive chef at Woodman’s, I was asked to cook a few things. I just said, “OK, this is going to be the one dessert that I’m going to do.” They seemed to like it quite a bit, because they sell it on a lot of events.
I do know that it’s Cynthia’s favorite dessert that I make for her, even though I’m making the citrus zabaione with berries for her this weekend.
John: When you put the blueberry sauce in, do you recommend waiting until just before you’re going to serve it to put that blueberry sauce on, so it doesn’t soak into the cake?
Ned: Yeah. You definitely want to serve it, as it’s going out the door to your guests, because even though it’s a cake, it’s still a little grainy. Liquid from the blueberries will soak into the cake quite quickly. If you let it sit there for 10 minutes, it would look like strawberry shortcake that had been sitting in a bowl for an hour.
Instead of doing strawberry shortcake, do this dessert. Try something different.
John: It’s a nice alternative to that.
Ned: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
John: All right. Thanks for walking us through that recipe. I can’t wait to try that myself. For more information, you can visit Woodman’s at woodmans.com, or The Essex Room, at essexroom.com. Again, Chef Ned Grieg, thanks very much for talking to us about this series of podcasts on spring recipes.
Ned: Thank you, John. Spring food is one of my favorite times, because the fiddleheads come up, and everything is so wonderful. Again, thank you for having me. Enjoy this Red Cornmeal Cake recipe everyone!
John: Thank you.
Note: this recipe is intended for catering and measurements may need to be scaled down for individual or family use.
Cake: Red Corn Meal Cake With Crushed Blueberry Sauce
Quantity & Unit Of Measure
96 Ounces Volume
All Purpose Flour
96 Ounces Volume
Cracked Black Pepper
2 Pounds Melted
144 Ounces Weight
***To Make Glaze Mix Ingredients Together & Glaze Cakes When Hot Out Of Oven***
- Combine The First 4 Ingredients In A Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl & Mix Well.
- Combine The Next 4 Wet Ingredients In A Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl & Mix Well.
- Add To The Dry Ingredients & Mix Well Then Add Melted Butter To Above & Mix Well.
- Spray 50 5 Ounce Disposable Tin Cups With Pam Then Dust With Sugar On All Sides.
- Tap Out Excess & Then Bake @ 350*F For 30 Minutes.
***To Make Blueberry Sauce***
- Combine ½ Of The Berries & The Rest Of The Ingredients & Simmer For 10 Minutes.
- Then Add Remaining Berries & Crush Them With A Spoon On The Side Of The Pot.
- Serve Glazed Corn Meal Cakes With Warm Blueberry Sauce.