Meet the sweeter side of cornmeal



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Last week, I introduced you to cooking with cornmeal. This week, let’s explore the sweeter side of cornmeal with an indulgent pancake perfect for Sunday brunch, a casual cake fit for spring and a spin on a French classic.


Pancakes and syrup, elevated

Even though I’m a fan of savory brunch treats, I am a sucker for pancakes, especially when drizzled in yummy syrup. It’s an acceptable form of cake for breakfast, guys. Sunday mornings were made for a stack of hotcakes and a steaming mug of coffee. Mark Bittman’s recipe for Cornmeal Pancakes with Vanilla and Pine Nuts via The New York Times has just enough panache to feel a bit more special than your average stack. I had slivered almonds on hand, so that’s what I used in place of pine nuts. I will warn you: these were a bit tricky to master. Photo by Jessica MendezThe recipe makes it seem so simple, and, up until I scooped batter onto the pan, I was doing fine. Then my pancake wouldn’t cook. It was too thick, too bulky. In fact, it was not a pancake. It was a mushy mess. The next attempt was a bit better but still far too greasy.

Through trial and error, I actually got a stack of tasty pancakes, so heed these tips. First, the recipe calls for a half-cup of milk, plus more. That “plus more” makes all the difference in your pancake consistency. I ended up using about double what the recipe initially called for, but I went a splash at a time and stirred after every splash until I finally had a batter that worked well. For thicker pancakes, you’ll probably use less than I did. Second, when a recipe says water droplets should “dance” on the pan, do not merely accept sizzling water. Those droplets better dance or the pan is simply not hot enough, and no amount of oil, butter or butter substitute is going to fix that. Third, do not attempt to flip the pancake before it is good and ready. When it lifts from the pan with ease, you know it’s time. If you’re scraping and fussing, all you’re going to get is a broken pancake and broken dreams of the perfect brunch. Follow these tips, and you will get a gorgeous cake with just a hint of sweetness, the perfect plush vehicle for honey or syrup. Since we are talking treats here, try making syrups and sauces that shine. Keep your meal healthy with This Rawsome Vegan Life’s super simple Strawberry Sauce. The Outrageous Orange Amaretto Syrup by The Slow Roasted Italian is a more decadent and sophisticated topping. Feel like a kid again when you pour this One-Minute Peanut Butter Syrup from Southern Plate all over your stack.


Classy cake and clafoutis

Cornmeal is the perfect base for treats. It’s hearty, has great flavor and enhances other flavors in a dish. Check out these rustic options bursting with flavor. Journalist, baker and cookbook author Nicole Spiridakis has brought out the best in cornmeal with her recipe for Lemon Cornmeal Cake, which she shared via NPR’s Kitchen Window series. This cake is moist and balances sweet and tart thanks to a healthy dose of lemon juice and zest. Spiridakis endeared herself to me when she revealed that she, too, is a fan of ingredient experimentation. Thanks to my increasing knowledge of baking substitutions, I swapped some ingredients called for in the recipe by using up items I had in my fridge, and the cake was still substantial and delicious. I used applesauce in place of butter, vanilla yogurt to emulate the tang and texture of sour cream and cashew meal in place of almond meal. I recommend pairing a slice of this beauty with a cup of earl grey tea.

Photo by Jessica Mendez

Warmer weather calls for a light dessert. Friends, allow me to introduce you to the clafoutis, a traditional French dessert that enrobes fresh fruit in silky custard. No crust, no fancy ingredients. Sarah from Strawberry Plum’s Sour Cherry Cornmeal Clafoutis isn’t gluten free, but for you, dear reader, I used cashew meal in place of flour. Guess what? Scrumptious! I also used strawberries in place of cherries, and the concentrated berry flavor worked really well with the almond note, while the cornmeal added an extra bit of oomph to the custard. My clafoutis cracked and puffed up a bit in the center, but as soon as I cut into it, the custard settled nicely. This is a dessert made for entertaining, so invite some friends over and enjoy a slice with a lovely floral tea or a glass of wine.

Photo by Jessica Mendez

Go on, make some magic in your kitchen and try these sweet cornmeal dishes. Tell us: which dessert did you like best?