With friends coming for brunch, I knew that the last course of our meal should be a light cake. I had lots of summer fruit and a few moments to check out the possibilities. After considerable research, I decided to adapt Marian Burros’ Original Plum Torte to the fruits I had on hand. (I’ve linked to Merrill Stubbs’ version on Food52 rather than the original because the latter is on the New York Times Cooking app, which doesn’t open for those without a subscription.)
Why call mine a cake instead of a torte if it’s an adaptation of a torte? That’s easy. Because I don’t think most Americans would think of this as a torte.
In Central and Eastern Europe, torte means cake, but to Americans, torte typically means a cake with ground nuts or breadcrumbs instead of flour. This recipe uses a combination of cornmeal and flour, so I call it a Simple Summer Fruit Cornmeal Cake.
This cake harkens back to my Jammy Blueberry Ginger Cornmeal Cake, but without the nutty bottom, the ginger, and the yogurt. OK, maybe it’s a different cake. But both have cornmeal and brown sugar in addition to white flour and granulated sugar. And both are in that category of breakfast/brunch cakes that also work as fruity not-too-sweet endings to any summer meal.
The beauty of this cake is that you can use any type of summer stone fruit or berries. I used fresh apricots from myCSA and raspberries from the grocery store. But instead you can use nectarines, peaches, blueberries, blackberries, (pitted) cherries, or any combination.
Whipped cream and fruit sauce are wonderful, optional additions to this cake. I happened to have both, so I served them on the side. My fruit sauce was a strawberry rhubarb sauce I made from CSA bounty, but you can make it easily with any fruit, simmered with a bit of sugar and lemon rind or fresh lemon juice. If you want specifics, check Cathy Barrow’s canned version, which you can make without canning.
I made a pretty design which doesn’t really show up in the baked version. The baking submerged the apricot slices, with just a few raspberries peeking through. But that is OK by me. The cake is rustic, delicious, and a happy marriage of crunchy top and a meltingly soft interior.
The cake got two thumbs up from my beloved as well as our guests, Dining Traveler Jessica Van Dop de Jesus, her beloved (that wonderful Van Dop guy), and her little treasure a/k/a “la mini.” The bonus – totally unexpected and much appreciated – was that Jessica took a few amazing photos of the cake. Check out what she did as brunch and a bit of chaos swirled around her. By the way, if you don’t know Jessica’s website and her wonderful IG feed, check them out!
Tips for Making Simple Summer Fruit Cornmeal Cake
- What pan to use? An 8 or 9-inch springform pan works best. Because the sides spring away from the cake after baking and cooling (hence the name), you can leave the cake on the pan bottom. Then you simply slip the cake onto a serving plate. Using a “regular” 8 or 9-inch round pan, works too. However, that is more difficult because you have to then flip the pan to remove the cake and then flip the cake again to get the top (fruit side) up.
- Creaming butter and sugars. The directions require you to cream the butter and sugars (brown and white.) Room temperature butter is essential and you need a stand or hand electric mixer or a lot of elbow grease. Personally, I’m a huge fan of my stand mixer. A behemoth that is my workhorse for many projects, I love it for tasks like creaming. I’ve also used electric hand mixers. They do take more arm strength and baker stamina than a stand mixer. Still they get the job done. Creaming by hand is definitely my third choice.
- What not to use/do. If you’re an experienced baker, you may use a recipe as a template. And in that case, you probably know what to avoid. But if you’re a novice, take my advice. Do not use strawberries in this recipe. Their color tends to leach during baking and you’ll be left with rather unappetizing, light pink fruit. And do not use a pan larger than 9-inches. While Marian Burros’ original recipe said you can use a 10-inch pan, that will make a very thin cake – too thin for my taste.
Simple Summer Fruit Cornmeal Cake
A slightly crunchy cake (from the cornmeal) with a delectable fruit top, this cake will be a star at any summer meal. Use peaches, nectarines, plums, blueberries, blackberries or any combination instead of fresh apricots and raspberries.
- 2/3 cup AP white flour 1 &5/6 oz/80 g
- 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal 1&4/5 oz/52 g
- 1 pinch sea or kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter 4 oz/113 g
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar 3 & 1/2 oz/100 g
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (light or dark), divided 3 & 1/4 oz/106 g. See note.
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1 teaspoon vanilla optional
- stone fruit (to be sliced) or berries - amount depends on what you use See note
- whipped cream (optional)
- fruit sauce (optional) One easy sauce is made by heating berries (perhaps with a sprinkling of sugar and lemon juice) until they become saucy.
Preheat oven to 350°/180° C. Use parchment on bottom of cake pan or lightly oil it.
Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder in a small/medium bowl. Set aside.
Cream butter with the granulated sugar and half of the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. (Reserve the other half of the brown sugar for the top of the cake.) If using a stand mixer, it should take about 3-5 minutes at medium speed. Creaming with a hand electric mixer takes a bit longer and by hand (without a mixer) may take 10 or more minutes.
Add the flour/cornmeal mixture, along with both eggs, the grated lemon rind, and the vanilla if you're using it. Continue beating until the batter is a uniform color and texture, yellow and thick.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out with a knife. Use an offset metal spatula if you have one. Otherwise a butter knife works fine.
If using stone fruit, split the fruit in half. I used apricots and cut the halves into thick slices, making a pattern with raspberries and the apricot slices, skin side up. Depending on the size of your pan and the type of fruit, you may use anywhere between 1-2 small apricots and a few raspberries to several peaches or plums. Top with remaining brown sugar or demerara sugar.
Bake for about 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Then open the springform and slide the cake onto a platter or flip it over if using and "regular" pan and then flip it back, so that the fruit is on top. If you slice the stone fruit (instead of leaving it in halves), it may disappear during the baking. But that doesn't matter. It just looks more rustic and the taste is there.
Serve with whipped cream or thickened yogurt, possibly with a fruit sauce on the side.
Topping - if you prefer an even crunchier topping, use Demerara or natural sugar instead of the 1/4 cup of brown sugar.
The easiest way to split a stone fruit is to cut it in half from the stem to the bottom along the cleft, then twist to open it. Here's a handy guide by my pal, Abby Dodge.