Plum Cornmeal Cake

On the hook in Pelican Bay — a remarkably beautiful 85% protected anchorage on the southeast corner of Dauphin Island at the mouth of Mobile Bay — this was supposed to be dessert at dinner our first night.  But the incredibly long and harrowing passage (getting INTO a narrow-inlet barrier island anchorage in a boat with 8′ draft is no easy matter just before first-light, with zero sleep after a night in a shipping channel) left us so knackered that we had a quick snack and tucked into our sea berths before it was even dark (in November … so we’re talking like 6pm).  So it was breakfast!  And it was divine.  A dense, lightly sweet, chewy and fruity bread-like cake, I served it with bracing coffee and a wedge of smoked cheddar cheese and things were looking way up by mid-morning.  And it’s easy to make, even without electricity or maximum coherence so … perfect for Black Friday as well.

Plum Cornmeal Cake

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1/2 cup (generous) finely ground cornmeal or semolina flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
13 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 plums, quartered and pitted
2 tablespoons brown sugar 

So, one of those “not gonna lie” blogging moments, not least of all because it’s useful instruction/conversation for our cruising community of followers.  How do you provision with eggs?  Ever since I was a wee-bitty camper, I’ve taken the number of eggs I think I will need, and broken them into a food-grade container like a Nalgene bottle, so that you don’t have to worry about breakage.  Works GREAT!  Except perhaps when you need to measure out a certain, precise number of eggs/yolks.  Other galley-specific challenges illustrated here … no electric beaters, so we will do this with our 1930’s-era hand beaters.  And I somehow lost our French press, so we’re straining coffee through a filter stuffed in my collapsible funnel, set directly in a carafe.

Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Grease and lightly flour an 8 x 2-inch round cake pan or an 8-inch springform pan, tapping out any excess flour. I love a springform pan … it’s one of those things that seems like cheating, and if I’m going to carry a cake pan in my galley it’s going to be a CHEATER (very piratey….).  You can make all kinds of things in here, and release them easily — frittatas and quiches, tarts, even pizzas!  Oh, also, in a small bowl, toss the cornmeal, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt (BOR-ING!  No picture…).

In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar together [with an electric mixer, until pale yellow and creamy, about 5 minutes] –> yeah that’s the recipe instructions.  If you are in manual, power-free environs like I am, get those egg-beaters spinning!  I sit at the chart table and lock the bowl between my knees to get things as stable and whirrrrring as they can be.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the egg yolks, [one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition] –> yeah that also is not going to happen … I scooped what I thought was probably six egg yolks and a couple whites into the bowl and whirrrred them in as best I could all at once.

As aforementioned … it was delicious.  Take what shortcuts you must/will.

Mix in the lemon zest and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and blend until just combined.  Spread the batter in the prepared pan.  It will be pretty thick — not quite cookie dough, but thicker than average cake batter.  Just push it all in there and get it even on top, even if textured.

Place the plum quarters at even intervals on top of the batter, and push them into the batter a little more than half-way. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the fruit and batter.

It now occurs to me that major parts of the world can’t get plums in November (it’s one of the few payoffs we have for hurricane season, our shorter, second fall-growing season of spring-summer crops).  I’ll look around the market for the next few months for fruits that might work in the place of plums during winter, try them, and update this recipe.  Pears are a ready contender … we shall see.

Bake until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, and then release.  You can now cool it completely, or be heathens and just whack your hunk off of it like we did.  It’s versatile, hardy, delicious.  We even had the leftovers underway at dawn while rounding the mark to get outside at Sand Island Lighthouse and head into the Gulf a few days later. Hand-held food that makes you think all’s well in the world!  YOU’RE WELCOME, and ARRRRRR.

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