My friends, who grew up with Southern-style, white, sugarless cornbread, like to make fun of Midwest cornbread. “Why don’t you just have cake?” they ask deridingly. And it’s true, with just a little more sugar than most people put in cornbread up here, you can make a really good cornmeal cake. This particular cake is a great way to use up any softer, end of season apples that are hanging out in your fruit drawer or fresh rhubarb which will be with us in just a few months.
This cake calls for baking powder for leavening. If you have done any baking in recent years, you know that many brands of baking powder now have a metallic taste. This is because aluminum sulphate is more shelf stable than calcium phosphate. However, if you are making milder flavored breads like pancakes, biscuits, or corn bread, the metallic taste from the aluminum can be overpowering. Since this is not a highly spiced cake, you’ll want to use aluminum-free baking powder. Rumsford is a very reliable aluminum-free brand. Alternatively, you can make your own baking powder by combining 1/ 4 c cream of tartar, 2 T baking soda, and 1 T cornstarch and sifting or sieving the mixture three times to remove any lumps. You can use a mesh strainer if you don’t have a sifter.
The balsamic vinegar helps to give the cake balance and keep it from being too sweet.
Apple Cornmeal Upside Down Cakes
- 2 T butter
- 3 medium apples, peeled and chopped into fine dice or equivalent amount of rhubarb similarly chopped
- 1/4 c brown sugar
- 1 T balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 c all-purpose white flour
- 1/2 c stone ground organic corn meal
- 1/3 c granulated sugar
- 2 t Rumsford or homemade baking powder
- 1/4 salt
- 4 T butter or solid vegetable shortening
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup milk
Butter or oil pan 2, 6-cup muffin pans lightly. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat 2 T of butter in a heavy, non-reactive skillet. When foaming slows, add apples and sugar. Saute apples for five minutes or rhubarb until it just softens. Stir in vinegar. If you are using rhubarb, check for tartness. Add sugar 1 T at a time if necessary until mixture is sweet-tart. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Meanwhile, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter or shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal with occasional pea-sized lumps of butter. In a separate bowl, beat egg. Combine with milk.
Divide fruit mixture between muffin cups.
Add wet ingredients to dry. Stir until just combined. Top fruit mixture with batter. Ideally, use a spoon or spatula to leave the batter in the middle of the pan or cup slightly lower than the edge. Bake muffins for 15 to 20 minutes. Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center, comes out clean.
Remove cakes from the oven. While still warm, use knife to loosen the edges. Unmold onto plate or cool baking sheet. Serve warm alone or with a dollop of whipped cream, strained yogurt, or crème fraiche.