Like many “quick-breads,” there’s a fine line between cornbread … and cake — unless, of course, you’re in the camp that believes sugar has no place anywhere near the classic barbecue side. I have always been staunchly pro-sugar in cornbread thank you very much, and I think it should always be moist-crumbly, not dry-crumbly. I have had an idea gathering dust for months in my Notes app under “To Develop”: cornbread snacking cake with honey cream cheese frosting. Then, a few weeks ago, a friend asked me to make a “corn cake” for her partner’s birthday. When I inquired for more information, she wrote, “like a cake with corn as the main star….like a corn bread but cake.”
I have a lot of weird baking ideas that I’m not always sure people will connect with, but when this friend came to me with an idea I had already been toying with, I thought it must signify a broader market for this kind of dessert. And let’s be clear, it is dessert. This is not the kind of cornbread I would make for a side. But it’s not just a cake featuring some cornmeal (which, if that’s your jam, you should check out my Lemon Ricotta Snacking Cake with Olive Oil).
My first job was bussing tables at a small chain of restaurants in Ohio called City Barbecue. They served the best cornbread. It was baked in individual-serving rectangles with massive, domed tops, golden yellow insides, deep amber crust on the outside. Unbelievably moist. I wish there were a location near me now. Anyway, that was my goalpost, my rubric, during the development process. I wanted that texture and flavor, but also for it to lean slightly sweeter and cake-y. But also, not too sweet because I know we’re putting cream cheese frosting and honey on top.
Having said that, the cream cheese frosting is simply cream cheese and a small (in perspective) amount of powdered sugar. It doesn’t contain butter. And you can drizzle on as much or as little honey as you want. The sprinkle of flakey salt over everything really makes it, though.
Here’s a tip for making this cake: start with room temperature ingredients. Seriously. There’s a significant amount of egg, fat, and liquid in this batter. That can make it prone to splitting, leading to a greasy final result. Flour is great at bringing together cake batters at the last second. It helps emulsify bits of butter and egg that may have split because of temperature differences. There’s not as much flour in this recipe, so ensure you have a strong emulsion with the butter and eggs before adding in more ingredients. Ice-cold eggs or buttermilk can freeze up the butter in the mixture. That’s why it’s better to just start by placing the ingredients out on the counter about an hour before starting.