Last Saturday, we enjoyed a pre-Easter dinner with our friends DPaul and Sean and Anita’s mom, Toni. Anita has already described the first course; my contribution was Cornmeal Rosemary Cake with Lemon Glaze from one of our two Tom Douglas cookbooks, Tom’s Big Dinners.
I’m not sure exactly why I ended up making it, as I’m not much of a baker. Anita is usually the head chef in our kitchen, but she was called away to help with the transportation of Sean and DPaul’s new (and absolutely adorable, but indisposed) family member. We needed to get cracking on dinner, but when Toni–who is an accomplished baker–asked to be put to work, I pointed her at the soup, not the cake. Go figure.
The batter assembly went smoothly. Or at least I thought it did until I realized that I had used rough, coarsely ground cornmeal instead of the medium-grind called for by the recipe. I pinched the bridge of my nose and rehearsed stand-up material to explain the…er…crunchy cake. “So rustic, isn’t it?” I imagined myself saying through my best Joy of Cooking smile. “Here, have another large glass of whiskey to wash that down. It’s a family tradition.”
Then, after fifteen minutes of baking, I noticed that while I had set the oven to 350 degrees, the thermometer inside read 325. Great. I turned up the heat.
The baking time recommended by the recipe came and went and I hovered at the oven window. The top started to brown and the cake tester came out clean, but when the cake was lying unmolded and upside down, it was obviously still mushy in the middle. Rummaging through our generous assortment of nonstick cake pans, I said a silent little prayer of thanks for my lovely, brainy wife and her talent for collecting cookware.
I re-panned the cake and shoveled it back in the oven, setting the timer in five-minute increments and wondering how the hell I would know when the damn thing was done. Out of desperation, I fell back on my grill-fu and started poking the cake with my (scrupulously clean) fingers, comparing the center with the edges, which I figured were sufficiently cooked.
Eureka! The top was much browner than I would have dared let it go otherwise, but eventually the cake stopped feeling like a waterbed. Cooled and unmolded, it actually looked edible–after Anita helped re-assemble the chunks that had stuck to the non-stick pan.
But I had the baker’s ace up my sleeve, the magical stuff that hides an epic poem’s worth of sins. I generously brushed on a Meyer lemon syrup (fruits from our tree!) and then took great comfort in watching my missteps and misgivings disappear beneath a dense white robe of sugary glaze speckled with rosemary leaves and lemon zest.
Didn’t taste bad, either. No whiskey necessary.