Vanilla-Scented Cornmeal Cake with Olive Oil Buttercream

Pastry chef Bronwen Wyatt's rich, elegant cake is perfect for just about any celebration you may have coming your way. You can simply spread the buttercream frosting to cover it, swirling for a little flair, or follow Wyatt's decorating tips by using a pastry bag to form ruffles and squiggles with the buttercream. Top the cake with edible decorations of your choice, such as flowers, fruits, and herbs. If using flowers, make sure that they're safe to eat and not sprayed with pesticides. 

Cornmeal Cake with Olive Oil Buttercream
Photo: Sam Aguirre-Kelly
Active Time:
1 hrs
Total Time:
2 hrs


For the cornmeal cake

  • 1 ⅔ cups (225 grams) all-purpose flour

  • 7 tablespoons (7 grams) stone-ground cornmeal (such as Anson Mills)

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1.50 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 teaspoon Morton kosher salt

  • 1.50 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar

  • 10 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

  • 2 large eggs, at cool room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

  • 1 ¼ cups sour cream

For the vanilla syrup (optional)

  • .50 cup granulated sugar

  • .50 cup water

  • .50 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

For the olive oil buttercream

  • ¾ cup (155 grams) granulated or raw sugar

  • cup egg whites (from about 3 large eggs)

  • .50 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 3/8 teaspoon Morton kosher salt, or more to taste

  • teaspoon cream of tartar 

  • 2.50 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 2 tablespoons full-flavored, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil 

  • Hefty pinch of citric acid (optional)

  • Edible flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, for decoration (optional)


Make cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-inch cake pan with 3-inch-high sides or a 9-inch springform pan with 3-inch-high sides with cooking spray. Line bottom with a parchment paper round; spray parchment with cooking spray.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, occasionally stopping to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl. On medium speed, beat in eggs one at a time just to blend, stopping to scrape down bottom and sides of bowl between additions. Beat in vanilla.

  3. Using medium-low speed, beat in dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with sour cream in 2 additions, stopping to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl halfway through. When final addition of dry ingredients is almost all mixed in, finish mixing by folding with a spatula. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until lightly golden brown and set in center, and cake springs back when pressed gently in center with fingertip, about 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, make vanilla syrup (optional)

  1. In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Stir in vanilla bean paste and let cool.

  2. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove pan sides and transfer cake to a wire rack. If using vanilla syrup, brush syrup all over top and sides of cake while it is still warm, then let cool completely. Otherwise, let cake cool completely on rack.

Make buttercream

  1. In bowl of a stand mixer, whisk sugar, egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Set bowl over a large saucepan of barely simmering water. Cook egg whites mixture, whisking gently and constantly, until sugar is completely dissolved, mixture is hot, and an instant read thermometer registers 185°F when placed in center of mixture, about 8 minutes (some of mixture may dry along edges of bowl).

  2. Transfer bowl to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until whites form firm, glossy, stiff peaks, and bowl has cooled to touch, about 5 minutes. With mixer on medium-high speed, add butter one piece at a time, beating to blend between each addition and stopping about halfway through adding butter to scrape down bowl, until all butter has been fully incorporated and mixture is smoothly emulsified, silky, and fluffy. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl. Add olive oil and citric acid (this adds acidity and balances the flavor) and beat until just combined. Season to taste with salt, if desired. Frost cake with buttercream and decorate with edible flowers, if desired.

Ideas for decorating the cake

  1. Keep a pitcher of warm water on side for cleaning your spatulas (preferably one small and one large offset spatula) as needed while decorating the cake. Spread 1/2 cup of frosting over top and sides of cake (This is called a crumb coat; the layer will be thin). Smooth any ridges that may form along the edges. Refrigerate cake until set, about 15 minutes. Spread 1 cup of buttercream over top and sides of cake. Using small offset spatula, smooth top of cake while forming a small ridge along top edge of cake. Place cake in refrigerator for buttercream to firm up slightly. Using large spatula, smooth and press remaining buttercream in bowl to eliminate any bubbles that may have formed to prepare it for decorating.

  2. Option 1 for buttercream decorating: Snip about 1/2 inch off of bottom of pastry bag. Place a pastry bag in a large jar and fold edges of bag over jar. Spoon some buttercream into pastry bag. Twist top of bag and press buttercream down to tip. Pipe squiggles and dots decoratively over top of cake. Refill bag as needed while decorating.

  3. Option 2 for buttercream decorating: Cut ½ inch off of tip of a pastry bag, then cut a slit about ½-inch along 1 side of bag. Place a pastry bag in a large jar and fold edges of bag over jar. Spoon some buttercream into pastry bag. Twist top of bag and press buttercream down to tip. Holding bag so slit is facing up, pipe a large ruffle along 1 edge of cake. Refill bag as needed while decorating.

  4. Alternatively, if you don't have a pastry bag, you can use a zip-top bag. Snip one corner of bag and place, snipped corner down, into jar. Spoon in buttercream. Tuck opposite corner of bag towards top of bag with opening, twist top of bag, and press buttercream into corner.

  5. Final decorations: Use edible flowers, herbs and flowering herbs, fruits, and vegetables. If you use flowers, be sure to use flowers that are safe to eat and have not been sprayed with pesticides. Be sure to wash flowers gently with a damp towel, or dip into a bowl of water and shake off any excess water. Let dry. You can use petals or whole flowers. When using whole flowers, snip off and clean off the bottom around the stems.

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