Make This Stunning Vanilla-Scented Cornmeal Cake for Your Next Celebration (or Just Whenever)
Whether you're baking for a birthday or simply taking joy at the end of a long work week, there's never a bad time for cake, and pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt's Vanilla-Scented Cornmeal Cake with Olive Oil Buttercream is perfect for any celebration. She makes the "deceptively simple single-layer cake" on this week's episode of Chefs at Home, and shares several decorating options. Simply swoop on the buttercream with an offset spatula; pipe squiggles, dots, and/or ruffles; or even top it with edible flowers, herbs, and fruit. The smooth white surface is a blank canvas ripe for your frosting-and-fruit maximalism, and, whichever edible art you choose to create, you'll end up with a rich, elegant cake that tastes just as beautiful as it looks.
Read on for Wyatt's methods and follow along with the videos below.
Make the Cake
First, get started on the cake batter. Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl and cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl (using a stand or hand mixer) until the mixture becomes nice and fluffy. The eggs go in the mixer next, one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Then, add in your dry ingredients in three additions alternately with the sour cream in two additions—basically, you add one third of the dry ingredients, pause and scrape the bowl, then add in half of the sour cream, and repeat. Make sure to scrape the bowl between adding ingredients.
Mix the ingredients until just incorporated, and then finish the task by folding with a spatula. Then, pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 50 minutes—the cake should come out lightly golden brown and set in the center, and should spring back when lightly pressed in the center with a fingertip. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack, and then remove the sides of the pan and transfer the cake to the rack. Brush on simple syrup if using. Be sure to let it cool completely before decorating.
Whip Up Your Buttercream
Meanwhile, make the olive oil buttercream. Wyatt recommends using an olive oil you love here, since you'll really taste it in the frosting. The first step is to whisk together the sugar, egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the stand mixer bowl, and set it over a saucepan of barely-simmering water to act as a double boiler. Whisk gently and constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture registers 185°F when an instant-read thermometer is placed into the center. This should take about eight minutes.
At this point, move the stand mixer bowl (carefully, it's hot!) to the stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat the mixture until glossy, stiff peaks form and the bowl becomes cool to the touch—about five minutes. Add the butter pieces in one at a time while the mixer runs on medium-high, stopping to scrape down halfway through, until a silky, emulsified, fluffy mixture forms. Just like that, you've got your Swiss meringue buttercream. Add the olive oil and citric acid, beat until just combined, and then season to taste with salt.
Layer That Buttercream
Before you can decorate your cake, grab half a cup of the buttercream and spread it on with an offset spatula to form a crumb coat, which acts as a barrier and helps ensure a smoother surface. Let it chill for 15 minutes, and then add on the next layer of buttercream—using a cup's-worth this time—ensuring none of the cake peeks through. Give it one final pass to smooth it all out and then pop it back in the fridge to firm up before adding the decorations.
Squiggle and Ruffle Your Frosting
Once you're ready to decorate, Wyatt demonstrates a few different options. In this video, she creates playful squiggles and dots on top of the cake with the buttercream frosting using a piping bag. She also shows how to create a simple, elegant buttercream ruffle with a piping bag and a regular plastic bag as well, in case you don't have a piping bag. If you're nervous, she recommends practicing on a baking sheet first so you can experiment.
Add Flowers and Fruit
To take it even one step further, you can add fresh fruit, herbs, and flowers on top of your frosted cake—just make sure they're edible and not sprayed with pesticides. Wash the flowers first, and if using whole flowers and not petals, snip off the bottoms and clean around the stems. If using herbs, Wyatt explains that you want to select varieties that would taste good with the buttercream, such as basil, thyme, and rosemary. She plays around with all different accoutrements in the video, including fig leaves, fennel flowers, local blackberries, dahlias, and strawberry leaves.
"The cake is rich, it's incredibly moist, there's so many different little, subtle things happening with the flavor that makes it really special," Wyatt says after trying a slice. "It's like that classic birthday cake flavor, but just taken an extra step. I think this cake is really elegant. I think anyone can achieve this really easily, and with the help of some flowers doing all of our heavy-lifting for us, the decoration is a breeze."
Stay tuned for our next episode of Chefs at Home featuring Katie Button.