A Southern Style Northern Italian Cornmeal Cake with Berries & Cream

I don’t do a lot of dessert recipes at SippitySup. Especially elaborate, super-sweet desserts. This is partly because I don’t really have much of a sweet tooth. But a bigger part is because there are so many bloggers out there doing such a great job with every genre of sweet confection. Just cruise through TasteSpotting, FoodGawker, SavorySights etc. I bet 50% of the photos are desserts. Gorgeous desserts! Stunning examples of amazingly sweet intricacies. I can’t touch the talent of those people. So I leave that particular accomplishment to them.

However, just because I don’t like super sweet stuff, nor am I an accomplished pastry chef; there is no reason to assume I don’t like to either eat or make a lovely dessert every now and again.

Today is an example. I am going to bring you a “Sweet Cornmeal Cake with Blackberries and Cream” (Torta di Farina Gialla). Calling this “sweet” is a bit of a misnomer. Because it’s only a bit sweeter than good southern-style cornbread. Which is just perfect to me. The blackberries I am serving with it are especially sweet this time of year. A sugary cake would just cloak their perfection.

batter in cake panThe texture of the cake is similar to cornbread also. I’d call it crumbly, rather than moist. It’s dense for a cake too, especially when compared to towering, airy American style cakes. So it is typically served with a big dollop of barely sweet whipped cream. As it will be served here today!

That’s because this cake is a rustic Italian cake. It’s made with yeast, not exactly a typical levening agent in modern cakes. It benefits from the yeastiness as well as its deconstructed nature I think. It’s a specialty of the Piedmont region of Italy. As I said, I am serving mine with blackberries. I chose blackberries for their seasonality (of course), but this cake does indeed remind me of southern-style cornbread. To me blackberries and the southern states of the good ole U.S.A just go hand in hand. So I guess this is a typically Italian cake with a uniquely American flair!

cake cooling in pan I must warn you though. Be prepared because when you taste this cake for the first time, your initial thought may be, “Cornmeal, that’s odd.“ ‘ But then as you fork in for a second and third bite, the unexpectedness of the taste and texture take hold of you. 

And one more thing, because this is SipitySup, I had to have a little fun with this cake too. Most Italian versions of this cake call for whole milk. I changed the whole milk to buttermilk. I LOVE buttermilk in cake. Them’s my roots showing again…

The tastes and textures of this cake also make me want to stress how essential the lightly sweetened whipped cream is. Don’t take the low-cal shortcut. You will be disappointed. However, don’t go into automatic pilot and over sweeten the cream either. You will overpower the subtlety in this combination. The slightly sweet cream adds a much appreciated richness. Besides its opulent, velvety texture adds a marvelous contrast to the reserved crumble of the cake. It is also a marvelous foil to the deep, dark jewel tones of the berries and the sunny yellow crust.

The last hint I can offer is about the texture of the cornmeal.  A very fine texture is important. Most commercial cornmeals are coarsely ground. So it’s best to re-grind the cornmeal before you make the cake. It is not a difficult task and really elevates this cake from cornbread to corncake. Simply place the coarsely ground cornmeal in a food processor and whirl away until a very fine, sandy consistency is achieved.

Sweet Cornmeal Cake with Berries and Cream Serves 8 

  • 3/4 cup buttermilk 
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast 
  • 1 cup fine-ground cornmeal (pregrind it in a food processor to ensure a delicate texture)
  • 1–1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for cream and more for sprinkling
  • 2 large eggs, beaten 
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon 
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pint fresh blackberries

cornmeal cake with berries and creamGenerously butter a 10-inch, 2 piece angel food cake pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the milk and yeast. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, flour, sugar, eggs, and lemon zest. Whisk until the ingredients are well blended. Turn the batter into the prepared pan. It will be fairly thick.

Let let the prepared pan rest for 30 minutes while the oven preheats the oven to 350F.  Brush the top of the cake with a generous amount of water and sprinkle the top of the batter generously with sugar. 

Bake for 40 minutes until slightly browned on top. Let the cake cool completely, then turn it out of the pan. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream and berries.



Greg Henry