pecan-cornmeal-butter-cake Recipes

pecan cornmeal butter cake

I spend a ridiculous amount of time falling in love with recipes from the title alone and then talking myself out of making them. Take this Pecan Cornmeal Butter Cake recipe run alongside a New York Times article about Durham, North Carolina, where hundreds of acres that were once used to grow tobacco have been transitioned to sprout peas, strawberries, fennel and artichokes, and that now house chickens, lambs, rabbits and cows. The warehouses once used to dry tobacco are being converted to art studios, bio labs and radio stations. You know, because I didn’t have enough reasons to love North Carolina.

brown butter, toasted pecans please
pecans, powdered + granulated sugar

I fell instantly in love. Delicious sounding title? Check. Great story? Check. A good fit with my South infatuation that flares up every time the sun comes out? Check. A recipe not tied to a season we’re not in? Check. The word ‘butter,’ anywhere? Oh check. So why didn’t I make this a month ago? It uses eight egg whites. (Boo to the better part of a dozen leftover egg yolks.) It calls for white cornmeal, which despite my hunting, I was unable to find in New York City, or frankly anywhere above the Mason-Dixon line. (I know I could mail order it but I dug my heels in; I can buy eight different types of mozzarella at my local bodega but not white cornmeal? I am spoiled.) It calls for 10 4-inch tartlet pans, which I have, because I’m insane (even my son agrees), but know that the vast majority of home cooks do not, because they are not.

batter, after three hours chilled

ready to bake

And so I decided not to. Then decided to. Then decided not to. And then on Monday morning it was raining and gross and I was looking for excuses to avoid going to the grocery store and I started fiddling with the recipe. Halving it would only require four egg whites, and I have enough yellow cornmeal to try a different cornbread recipe every week this summer. (Guys, I just got the best idea!) And what if I got to keep the pretty-prettiness of a fluted tart pan but baked it in a more popular size, a 9-inch?

pecan cornmeal butter cake

If you ignore the fact that my cake became glued to the pan (don’t worry, I’ll encourage you to parchment-line it) and forgive me for completely burying the lede here, hot damn, people, this cake is something else, something spectacular. Oh, it’s nothing much to look at — especially as both the crumb and yellow cornmeal make it actually look like cornbread — but to taste it is to know that something wonderful has come to pass. Butter has been browned. Pecans have been toasted until dark and caramelized. The vanilla makes the brown butter more bourbon-y, the pecans more brown sugar-y. The egg whites keep it from laying heavy in your mouth and the impact of the flavor is such that it needs to be the thin cake it is, attacked with barely-sweetened whipped cream and sliced strawberries. This cake has a lot in common with another cake I’ve raved about, the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, but just follow me here, I think brown butter is an even better match for pecans and berries than I once thought it was for hazelnuts and chocolate. Or maybe that’s just summer and berry season, distracting me. I’m not complaining.

pecan cornmeal butter cake

One year ago: Rhubarb Cobbler
Two years ago: Martha’s Macaroni-and-Cheese
Three years ago: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Pecan Cornmeal Butter Cake
Adapted from Watt’s Grocery in Durham, North Carolina, via The NYTimes

Just to give you a heads-up, there’s a 3-hour wait built into this recipe; this time really softens up the cornmeal so its texture is less of an interruption. As always, I missed this step when planning my day, got to step four and *bleep*-ed a few times at the page. Don’t do what I did.

9 tablespoons (4.5 ounces) unsalted butter, plus extra for pans
1/2 cup pecans, toasted (350°F for 10 to 13 minutes, or until browned) and cooled
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus extra for berries (optional)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
7 tablespoons white or yellow cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Berries, for serving
Ice cream or whipped cream, for serving.

In a small pan, cook the butter until it browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Strain and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse pecans, confectioners’ and granulated sugar until powdery. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt in a large bowl and add pecan-sugar mixture to this.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites and vanilla together, just to combine. Whisk this and the browned butter into the dry ingredients. Refrigerate batter at least three hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Thickly butter the sides of a 9-inch round fluted tart pan, or 9-inch springform. Line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Please. My gut told me to do this and I ignored it, following the recipe, and the cake stuck terribly.

Bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool 10 to 15 minutes in pan, then turn out on a rack. Serve topped with berries (which you can macerate with a little sugar for a few minutes) and softly whipped cream.

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227 comments on pecan cornmeal butter cake

  1. Elizabeth

    My son is just about the same age as Jacob and he loves scrambled eggs. Babies aren’t supposed to have whites for some reason I can never remember, but the yolks are fine. If you have leftover yolks, scramble them up for him!

  2. LePetit K

    Deb, you should make the trip to Durham to experience some of the amazing local food. I’m the manager of one of the incredible eateries in the revitalized downtown–a bakery that uses local, seasonal flavors to make the the most delightful savory and sweet pies, hand pies, donut muffins…anything you can wrap in pastry crust and MORE. Plus, you could walk to Watt’s Grocery :)

  3. I have loved the cornmeal cakes I have tried in the past, but the addition of brown butter sounds like it takes the concept to a whole new level! Can’t wait to try this!

  4. Winegirl

    Wow, I love cornbready things, and pecans, and strawberry shortcake! Somehow I need to fit chocolate into this and my heaven will be complete!

  5. This looks incredible – I’m so glad you’ve featured a Watt’s Grocery recipe! I love their food so much (I miss the brunches I had there during college!). I want to take a trip back to Durham to eat at all my favorite places, Watt’s included. Thanks Deb, I can’t wait to try this out since a trip to Durham isn’t happening anytime soon!

  6. Never have I made a cake with cornmeal. A pie I have made, but not a cake. Yours is beautiful! I have white cornmeal that was milled not too far from where I live. I received it in my CSA box and it is the best I think I have ever had. I should give this recipe a try. I does look delicious with the fresh strawberries!

  7. Amy

    You’ve just changed my Mothers Day dessert plans. I have just shy of 5 lbs of strawberries in the kitchen. Can’t wait to pile some of them on this cake!

  8. Laura

    This looks divine! Thank you for sharing. I love recipes that call for egg whites only, because my family’s rice pudding recipe uses only yolks! Looks like I have a tasty one-two dessert punch coming up…

  9. Ellen

    damn, that sounds amazing. i love simple cakes like these (mostly because i want ice cream with my cake, and buttercream just gets in the way!). i’m imagining some homemade maple ice cream scooped on top of this baby…

  10. meg

    Yes, this looks amazing and all that, I have a terminology question. Isn’t white cornmeal the thing that we Southerners call “grits?” And if so, do they REALLY not have those in New York? Wow. My heart is sad for you.

  11. Well I’ve never baked with cornmeal but now I’ll try and find something suitable in Berlin. You always come up ith the most amazing stuff – thank you. Oh, and the faces Jacob pulls are sooo cute.

  12. i can’t tell you how excited this cake just made me. you see, i grew up in NC (does the blog name give it away?) and lived in raleigh-durham for 6 years. i do miss that place, but somewhere along the way i (or moreso, Hubs) turned big city here in chicago and we now don’t know if we’ll ever go back. but i’d love to….

    this cake, and that article, make me remember all things good in the world and your adaptations sound great, as long as you still pronounce pecans with a stress on the “pe”, which so many do wrong :). one day, people will catch on!

  13. Katie

    Hmmmm – refrigerate overnight? Could this be a breakfast thing do you think? For, say, mothers day brunch? Or is it too cake-y?

  14. I have to make this. I love everything in it. I think I have some egg whites in the freezer that need to be used. If you still have leftover yolks, maybe tomorrow is an eggs benedict or artichokes with homemade mayonnaise kind of day.

  15. I’ve never even heard of white cornmeal. I googled it and found a discussion on Chowhound, where somebody commented that they grew up being told that white cornmeal was for people and yellow cornmeal was for animals. (All me and my yellow cornmeal can say to that is, Meow!). I’ll have to keep an eye out for it in the stores – just out of curiosity.

  16. Lindsey

    This is perfect! Out here in the desert, we don’t have much fresh local produce, but we are just down the road from a pecan grove. Can’t wait to try it!

  17. Fern

    The quantities for butter are inconsistent (2 tbsp = i oz so 5 tbsp would be 2.5 oz). Which is correct, the larger of the smaller amount?

    I do want to make this! looks fabulous and not too too sweet.

    1. deb

      Butter — The correct amount is 9 tablespoons. Now fixed! Thanks.

      Egg yolks — I’m still deciding what to do with them! I have like T-minus 23 hours to figure it out and even then I’m pushing it (but they were from the market, which means they were fresher and hopefully won’t go bad as soon). I was thinking mayo but then I was thinking some sort of creme anglaise for baked fruit for Mother’s Day (I’m cooking; bet you guys didn’t guess that!) or even a hollandaise for eggs. In the time I’ve been debating uses for them, they’ve probably gone south! And not in a good way.

      SoupAddict — Zomg. Googled and got that same discussion. It made me more obsessed with finding white cornmeal because it is for the people. I went to Kalustyans (for you NYers out there) on a tip from someone on Twitter to look for it. They sell something packaged as white cornmeal but it’s white corn flour — too powdery to be considered “meal”. (I guess it was mislabeled. I would bet at other times they sell proper white cornmeal.) I bought it anyway but gave this cake a spin with the yellow standard, because I know that’s what most people keep around.

  18. Rhonda

    Everyone has a theory on cornmeal but personally I think the color is a visual choice just like brand names and individual preference. I always thought that grits were hominy which is a relative of corn.

    Anyway, sounds good, buttered pecan cornbread. So soaking it makes it less grainy?

  19. m

    Oh gosh, I don’t think it looking like cornbread detracts from it at all! If anything, it would make me want to eat it more! :]

  20. Fern

    Sorry – I just went back to the source and answered my own question. Half a recipe calls for 4.5 oz which is 9 tbsp or just over half a cup.

  21. Kathy in St. Louis

    Extra yolks? Why, lemon curd, of course. I commented on this entry, but we made your lemon layer cake yesterday to great success. We did, however, use a different lemon curd recipe — that from Lori Longbotham’s beautiful little book, Luscious Lemon Desserts. Edited for space and simplicity:

    Melt 1/2 c unsalted butter in a heavy, medium pot; remove from heat and whisk in 3/4 c sugar, 1/2 c fresh lemon juice, 3 T lemon zest, and a pinch of salt. Whisk in six large egg yolks. Cook until it reaches nappe stage. Strain and enjoy.

  22. Kathy in St. Louis

    Oh, and I should mention that I don’t toss the stringy remnants left over from the straining; I stir these solids into plain yogurt and savor it with fruit.

  23. Sophie

    When life gives you egg yolks make MAYONNAISE. My favorite involves olive oil and lots of mashed up garlic, plus a little dijon. Slather on everything!

  24. I’m sorry, but the correct use for leftover egg yolks is ALWAYS creme brulee! Always. In fact, I’m going to find myself with a whole bunch of lonely egg whites when I make myself some on Sunday.

  25. Perfect – really – we’re moving, and I’m trying to use up some this and that, like pecans and cornmeal…this is perfect, and we’re always searching for something new and wonderful for a breakfast bread thing-y. Inspired and inspiring, SK, once again. Thank you, ma’am.

  26. Oh, my WORD. And just today I made (sweet) cornmeal mush for my husband [post dental visit].

    May I recommend a really good cornbread recipe? Look up Fine Cooking. And when you find the basic recipe, follow w/o cheese, hot peppers, etc. Make in a real cast iron skillet (salt the butter after you heat it) and for the corn meal, use half medium grind, half coarse.

    It’s very, very good cornbread (not too sweet) and you can make it ahead and cut into 8 pieces and freeze. Heat in a 325 oven, and all sides will be crisp!

  27. Anne

    Yum yum yum, and I have everything in my cupboard – making it tomorrow! Give baby Jacob the egg yolks next time. My baby is just a couple weeks older than Jacob, and here in Canada they tell us the yolks are ok but no whites until 1 year of age. Gave my little guy yolks for the first time this week and he loves them scrambled up with some breastmilk so they’re nice and fluffy and then mixed into some cereal.

  28. Nicole

    Oh man, I wish we were neighbors. I just used eight egg YOLKS yesterday for custard and was stumped at what to do with the whites (I didn’t WANT to make an angel food cake when I had a vat of custard to work through).

  29. jenny

    white cornmeal-whole foods. i don’t love shopping there because it’s offensively expensive, but they do have a lot of obscure ingredients…

  30. This is absolutely something for me – a lot of nuts, and a little of flour. Pecan cake, made by my father, was the first thing I tried when I visited te U.S as a girl, in 1989…great !

  31. I just posted about a Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake that is pretty similar to this awesome specimen you’ve whipped up, minus the cornmeal, and it was so divine. So this has me wondering–do you think this recipe would handle fruit added in, too– small hunks of, say, peaches (and say, bourbon-soaked?) throughout without becoming too moist?

  32. Roz

    I’ll have to tinker with this to see if I can make it GF (darn 3 tbsp of flour!) I am hoping it works out, because I have plans to marry it with the Cherry Upside Down cake of yours. I’m all about gilding the lily!

  33. Ann B

    I love that you put the wait-time at the front of the recipe – THANK YOU. I’ve had entire meals go into the refrigerator or garbage because I missed the ‘wait overnight’ in step-not-first!

  34. moonmarked

    Okay, it’s weird that you can;t find white cornmeal in Manhattan–or maybe weird that not only is white cornmeal sold in both of my neighborhood supermarkets, but just last week I bought white cornmeal (Indian Head brand) early on a Sunday morning before the supermarkets opened (when I would have preferred yellow) rather than get the ubiquitous yellow cornbread mix at my corner bodega. I’m in north Crown Heights–maybe you need to be in a neighborhood where there are southern folks doing the shopping (as well as Lubavitchers, West Indians, Latin@s, and increasingly, hipsters)?

    Bob’s Red Mill also carries it, and you can usually get most of their product line at Fairway–the Brooklyn one has it as well. As does the Keyfood at Sterling and Fifth Avenue, a few blocks down from Atlantic Ave and not far from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden if you need an excuse to come to BK!

  35. I LOVE your Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake, if this has only half in common with it it’s a must make!
    Question: Did you use fine or coarse corn meal? I notice you answered someone about the super fine/powdery meal which you did not use, but I’m debating between the pretty thick or the finer meal I have.
    Idea for egg yolks: for those of you that have Claudia Roden’s “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food” I made today a pretty good spinach soup from that book that called for 3 egg yolks, it gave the soup a thick and creamy texture, you can probably use all 4 eggs yolks.

  36. JJM

    My apologies if this has been said before, but white cornmeal is made from ground white corn. Yellow cornmeal is made from ground yellow corn. Grits are not the same as white cornmeal. Grits are made from coarsely ground Hominy, sort of a treated corn kernel situation, but way different from regular corn.

  37. Angela

    I love brown butter, and having gone to grad school at UNC can heartily endorse Magnolia Grill, should you ever be in Durham.

  38. I know you do not like product plugs, but I grew up in the NC mountains and live now in VA where it is not hard to find white corn meal and I still order from Anson Mills in SC sometimes because it is just that good – definitely worth checking out no matter where you live. …cake sounds delicious.

  39. Gabriela

    This looks absolutely delicious, and perfect with the strawberries that just started to grow out in the garden.

    On another note, I have this inane need to correct any grammar/spelling mistake, and while reading I noticed that you said “It calls four 10 4-inch tartlet pans” and I think you may have meant for instead of four? Love your blog!

  40. Anna

    I have seen Indian Head’s white and yellow cornmeal stocked in most supermarkets in Brooklyn. Wonder if the Manhattan stores just don’t have the space?

  41. Elly

    So, having been first introduced to brown butter through your site and having made the Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake, and seeing delicious offerings like this which combine my favorite nut with my favorite new way of doing butter, I have one question: Why would I not brown butter for, well, every cake batter from now on? Does the flavor just work better with some flavors than others, or is there some super baker chemical reaction reason?

  42. First, I can’t believe I missed the recipe when I read the NYT article, which I did when it was published because I live in Durham. Thanks for the post; I will have to try this!

    Second, on the cornmeal — my guess is that the original at Watts Grocery uses stone-ground cornmeal, which has a little less consistent texture but (partly as a result) more flavor. That would explain the long soak. Of course I know it’s hard finding much variety of cornmeal up north, which is why the Times wouldn’t have specified it. But if you can find the stone ground, I recommend it.

    Also, JJM is right about grits in theory, all grits used to be hominy grits, but thanks to industrial processing and centralized milling and whatnot a lot of what’s sold as grits now is just coarse-ground corn… sadly… and not always the sort of corn best suited to cooking up as grits. But I think I’m way off the subject now.

  43. Hi Deb, I live less than a mile from Watt’s Grocery in Durham and if that wasn’t coincidence enough, I made this exact same recipe last night! We made it with homemade buttermilk ice cream and soaked the strawberries in balsamic vinegar, a little sugar, and cointreau before pouring it on top of the ice cream and cake. It was to die for… mmm.

  44. Michelle

    The moment this showed up on my screen, I knew I had to make it. And I did. IT WAS AMAZING. My roommate and I have already demolished half of it! A slight tweak being I only used 8 tbsp of butter (because I was feeling lazy) but it didn’t seem to hurt it at all.

  45. Sara

    This is basically a financier (well, with a little flour in there). Whodda thunk a financier would show up as a southern cake? Funny. I don’t see why it couldn’t be made gluten-free considering financiers usually are.

  46. omg ponies

    Is it a terrible idea to butter the pan and “flour” it with cornmeal instead of using the parchment circle?

    1. deb

      omg ponies — The original recipe said to butter the pan then sprinkle it with cornmeal. DID NOT WORK. The sides weren’t stuck but the bottom was cemented. Definitely advise the parchment.

      White cornmeal suggestions — Thank you. I’ll probably cave and do an Anson Mills order one of these days; thanks for the local suggestions, I realize I was hoping to find it within a neighborhood or so of here and thus far, no dice.

  47. Susan

    I love cornmeal cakes. They do benefit from sitting, as the meal absorbs the butter and the nut oil and becomes sort of gelatinous and soft…Swoon! I also grind toasted nuts like this for my banana and other breads. It really adds a great deal to the flavor and the texture. Can’t wait to try this one.

  48. Sara

    As a native Durhamite, I have to say there might have been a smallish squeal of glee when I strolled over to my fave food blog and saw this post.

    As a young, poor Durhamite, I haven’t made it to Watt’s Grocery yet, so this recipe is triply exciting–just in time to solve my Mother’s Day baking conundrum, a chance to try a Watts Grocery recipe, and the attendant hometown pride. And as a bonus, I read it in time to get the pecans and strawberries tomorrow morning from the farmer’s market!

    Although I do have to say you couldn’t convince me to strain browned butter for the world.

  49. Roxlet

    It’s spring. Take a ride to the burbs. In Westchester you will find white cornmeal in every grocery store. Finally, something we have in Westchester that you don’t have in Manhattan. BTW, did you try Fairway?

  50. I think this cake is the good-twin to Momofuku crack pie’s bad-twin – it uses the eight egg whites the latter left me with! (Incidentally – I know you’re a crack pie sceptic, Deb, but I made it reducing both the 2/3c. white and the 2/3c. sugar to 1/2c. each, and the sweetness was perfect there – my palate is very similar to yours, I think. It genuinely is stunning).

    And now, I need pecans. This has got to happen.

  51. I love cornmeal cake and after a visit to see son/wife in Chicago and a visit to Mado restaurant I try to make their almond cornmeal cake with mascarpone/goat cheese topping.
    I did a pretty good job on it and the goat cheese topping is really nice. Here in Texas we can get white cornmeal, yellow cornmeal, self rising cornmeal, blue cornmeal and even masa meal.I can send you some :) — Sherry

  52. I think about how difficult it is to find certain ingredients and always think New York would be a much better place for that kind of stuff. For once I do know where to get white cornmeal from. I actually prefer it. Great looking cake, can’t wait to bake it.

  53. This looks great! Also when I make key lime pie, it uses 4 egg yolks, and I’m never sure what to do with the egg whites. This recipe seems like a good answer. I’m going to try this recipe soon.

  54. momsib

    This looks just too good for words. I like a plainish cake myself. I know it’s too early in the season, but cornmeal goes absolutely beautifully with blueberries as well…blueberry preserves/jam or just maple-syrup-sweetened blueberries. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  55. Every single time you post a new recipe with a link to Jacob’s picture on flickr I ALWAYS click on it and I am never disappointed!

  56. charlotte

    Hi, i am a Texan that has lived in Mexico and corn is a big part of my life, from grits and hominy for pozole, to cornbread, tortillas and arepas and of course, southern fried catfish. I saw some questions about using white vs yellow corn meal and I thought I would explain what I know about that. White corn meal is from white corn, with a higher starch content, and is usually degerminated and ground finer than yellow corn meal. There is a prestige with white corn vs yellow, many people think the white is “higher class” but I am colorblind when it comes to corn. It’s all good! When you have masa harina, that is yellow or white corn, but treated with lye or lime, depending on the place, but ground very fine so that it FEELS like flour, but it has always made my cakes or breads too dense. Bricks-never tasty… Stick to tamales with masa harina. I would never use masa harina for homemade tortillas, but would rather soak the kernels, white or yellow, in cal (or lime) and then grind that, then fry them up. When I am whipping up a bready cakey thing, I use yellow or white cornmeal interchangeably, and if my yellow is too coarse, I just grind it in my food processor for a minute. Yellow is more often available stoneground, and that usually leaves the germ, so I like to buy that for the fiber content and its “wholeness”. But I do either grind it more for cakes or accept a crumblier texture. As a person who enjoys whole grain flavors, I prefer yellow, whole stoneground cornmeal, but white cornmeal is definitely lighter and more delicate.

  57. karen

    Deb- you are killing me! Home renovation has left us without a kitchen since mid December and the back log of recipes (especially yours) begging to be made is staggering. Can’t wait to try this in my new dual fuel oven (the big splurge) in a few weeks. A nice nod to my Chattanogian Grandma’s Southern roots to boot. Keep ’em coming!

  58. Travels4Food

    Charlotte – thank you for the cornmeal 101 lesson – I learned a lot! And Deb, when you brown butter, do you keep it on a low flame for a long time, or a medium flame for less – what’s the best way? Last question, for any folks reading who are gluten-free: what would be the best replacement for the 3 tbsps of white flour? Can I just substitute rice flour, or do I need to get more complicated?

    Okay, really the last comment for today – Deb, I look forward as much to the way you write about the recipe as I do the recipe itself. Reading your blog really is one of my favorite things.

  59. Kristen E

    When I saw “8 egg whites” up there, I thought of your poppy seed lemon cake, which I made last night and requires 8 egg yolks. I think it’s a match made in heaven! ;) After making swiss buttercream with 4 of the whites (for some cupcakes), I now have 4 whites left, apparently for making this! Hooray!

  60. Rose

    “It calls four 10 4-inch tartlet pans,…” – Should that be “for” instead of “four”?

    The photos of Jacob are adorable and this recipe is as tempting as all of your other posts.

  61. Rita

    Love the recipe! I live in Manhattan – UWS. I buy Indian Head white corn meal all the time – my husband prefers it to yellow. Fairway carries it as does Pioneer. Their website also lists Key Food, Associated, Western Beef, Foodtown & quite a few more. Good luck finding some in your ‘hood.

  62. touched by sun

    If you want to find it “local” rather than wait for the Anson mail order, you can go to the Food Emporium (or whatever it is called) on 14th Street–it’s on the northside of the south east corner of Union Square aka the northeast corner of 14th Street and Fourth Ave. If you are going to the Farmer’s Market, it’s not too out of your way.

  63. Madeleine

    Sooo want to make this (I can get white cornmeal in San Francisco–shall I send you some?), but…can you suggest a sub for pecans, lest I kill my nut-averse family?

  64. magpie

    Pecans are not my thing…but I love everything else about this; what other nut, if any, might go well here? (BTW, Back to the white v yellow discussion, we did a white v yellow polenta blind taste test and nobody could tell the diff)

    Another use for yolks – canelés, little cakes from Bordeaux, France, with a caramelised outer shell and scalloped tops. Some winemakers use eggwhites to remove the impurities from the wine and way back when they actually broke eggs to do this (now they just buy industrial quantities of whites), they had loads of yolks leftover.

  65. Tamsin

    I vote the yolks go into Petits Pots de Crème – chocolate, lemon, vanilla with berries… you know, just in case you didn’t have enough recipes to ponder over.

  66. Paul Corsa

    Thanks for the fantastic Blog. Q-Would “Eggbeaters” work as a substitute for eggwhites in baking? Isn’t that what they are,but with yellow coloring?

  67. Deb! This looks so good. I just made honey cornmeal scones and I think I want to try every recipe that has cornmeal in it! It’s my way of having corn breadesque goodness more often.

  68. Lea

    Hi, Deb!
    I’ve just recently discovered your blog, and I’m wondering where it’s been my whole life (sadly, I realize, it’s been here for just about as long as I’ve been cooking…apparently I live in a cave). In any case, I’ve spent the past couple of days drooling over the recipe index. I think my boyfriend is keeping a tally of how many times I say, “Ooh, and on the Smitten Kitchen, there’s this recipe for…” But he has no complaints– I made Pizza Bianca last night with a big salad, and it was wonderful. Tonight I’m planning an Indian feast, and your Chana Masala is sure to make an appearance. Thanks!
    (expect more gushing comments in the future, I can hardly help myself.)

  69. Anne

    I don’t mean to exacerbate the Boston-NY rivalry (our teams are playing this weekend even though I don’t follow baseball _at all_, and I’ll leave it to 30 Rock), but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Quaker white cornmeal in the grocery store here, right next to the yellow. May not be the highest quality or freshest, but now I have a reason to prove myself right (or wrong)!

    1. deb

      If any of you just heard the loudest and most frustrated “aaaaargh! feh!” in the distance, that would have been me, discovering that said bodega mentioned above with all of the mozzarella varieties SELLS WHITE CORNMEAL. I thought I had looked? Maybe I forgot? I went to Dean and Deluca (on a Twitter tip), Kalustyans and Whole Foods and came up empty. But my bodega had it.

      I’m retiring from grocery shopping, at least for the remainder of the weekend.

  70. touched by sun

    Maybe they just restocked! Congrats–I was truly worried that you lived in some strange bubble of a neighborhood and the Brooklyn Bridge was an alternate-reality version of the Mason-Dixon line…just goes to show, the regular bodega-buying people of NYC trump D & D, WF, and Kalustyans most days of the week! Enjoy the now sunny & breezy weather.

  71. Ella

    I looked up kosher salt and it sounds like what we in Australia would call flake salt. Does this sound right?

    1. deb

      Ella — I haven’t used flake salt but you can replace the Kosher salt with any coarse salt. You could also replace it with a finer salt, like table salt, but then use half the quantity.

  72. lisa

    what to do with egg yolks? two words: ICE CREAM. homemade, of course. if you play your cards right and make the ice cream ahead, you can put it on top of the cake…

  73. I went on a quest to find to white cornmeal here in Cincinnati. (Being right next to a Southern state, I thought some of the influence would’ve drifted over the Ohio River into at least some of our food stores). No dice. Isn’t that odd? Not even a Bob’s Red Mill (I found plenty of his yellow cornmeal, no white). It wasn’t all for naught, though. I did learn that my own neighborhood Kroger carries a FAR better selection of health foods, like MaraNatha raw organic almond butter, brown rice crispy cereal, and gluten-free rolled oats, than even our Whole Foods and Fresh Market. So, that’s something.

    The lack of white cornmeal won’t stop me from making this – it just became a side obsession for a day or two!

  74. Great cake recipe, thanks!
    I love the flavour of burnt butter – so nutty and delicious.
    I don’t have any pecans at the moment, but I do have a big bag of walnuts, so …

  75. I love pecans, your cake looks simply delicious! I hope I can find cornmeal here, I have never tried baking with it.
    Happy Mother’s Day to you! :)

  76. Melissa H.

    This cake was like a gift from Heaven, sent to help me use up exactly the collection of random baking ingredients I have been puzzling over…cornmeal, egg whites left over from Tuesday’s ice cream, too few pecans to make a pie…
    The cake turned out a little bit grittier than I would have liked, but it was delicious! I’m so glad I made it! Thanks for the great recipe, Deb!

  77. Joey

    Just pulled this out of the oven. I used medium grind stone ground whole grain corn meal, and should have let it sit over night. With only three hours of soaking, some of the cornmeal pieces were too big to get soft. I can see them in the cake when I slice into it, and they are hard to chew. But it’s still delicious — except for the hard pieces of cornmeal, the cake is very moist, and that slightly nutty, slightly caramel flavor of burnt butter really comes through. Yum. Next time, I’ll try a finer grind.

  78. Debs

    Looks divine. I lurve pecans and have wanted to make cornbread for a while so this is the best of both worlds. In the uk, these kind of recipes are rare, so I regularly visit this site to get an insight into US recipes..although things like pecan and pumpkin aren’t as widely available, which is a shame cos they are 2 of my fave foods…mmm..well apart from maple syrup, that has become a staple in my kitchen!!!

  79. Jessi

    Lovely Post! I grew up a vagabond kid but have settled in the south with my southern husband and his VERY southern family, I’ve pretty well adopted their culture as my own. We’ve pushed celebrating Mother’s Day back to Tuesday this year and this cake will be THE PERFECT dessert to our ‘meal for mama’. Thank You for trying it in the 9 inch pan, you’re always so considerate:)

  80. Amy

    You make me feel better because when I read your posts, I don’t feel so weird thinking I might be the only one that falls in love with recipe titles.

    Made the spring hash Friday night. YET ANOTHER amazing recipe and I thank you!

  81. Deb? Help? Very frequently, when I make cakes, they rather sink in the middle. My ingredients (powder, soda, flour, oil) are new/fresh and I (generally) add the dry ingredients to the wet — without beating the crud out of them. The worst case of this cake sinkage is with my carrot cake — which I make anyway and live with the sink-hole in the middle. My mom says I should be adding the wet ingredients to the dry (ugh. lots of lumps). Any suggestions? Thanks.

  82. Martha Ann

    Deb, because I loved your chocolate gelato, I would be glad to send you some white cornmeal. It would probably keep forever in your freezer. Want a package or just a cup or so?

  83. 10 4 inch tarlet pans? How do you stock all these things in a NYC apt + kiddie stuff! I could really use tips from you, given that my mom’s forever cribbing about the plates and tablemats and kitchen utensils I keep buying!

  84. Norine

    Ohhh, it sounds delish. Do you have a suggestion for substituting corn? I have developed a mean allergy to it, but long for the taste and texture. Do you think I could process oatmeal for this recipe, or is there another grain that might fill in? This is hard. There’s a lot of corn in a lot of things… N

  85. Excited for the soaking tip. I just made a Cornmeal Almod cake from my favorite bible of cake making, “Cake Keeper Cakes” by Lauren Chattman. This book had never failed me til now, but the texture was a little too sandy for me. Really psyched to give cornmeal cake another go using your soak method.

  86. Karyl

    Eight extra egg yolks? I’d make my favorite ice cream, of course: Lemon Ice Cream from FIG restaurant in Charleston (recipe on Epicurious) where you can adapt the base to any flavor. It calls for exactly 8 yolks so I’ll have to make your cake version twice. Thanks for the recipe!

  87. halfbakedcake

    Another Durhamite checking in. Watt’s does have the best desserts, but I’m not sure that I’ve forgiven them yet for making my Pimm’s Cup with Blenheim’s ginger ale. I love Blenheim’s, but I’m of the opinion that a Pimm’s Cup should not taste like burning.

    As per Anson Mills, their products are good, but their attitude is so off-putting that I’ve made it my life’s mission to find equally good products elsewhere, which has taken some legwork but hasn’t been super hard (I’m unemployed and live in the South though, so your mileage may vary). A stand at the Durham farmer’s market sells the best grits I’ve ever had—better than AM–but I can’t find better oats.

    White/yellow cornmeal makes no difference as far as I can tell. My mom uses white cornmeal to make cornbread and my grandma uses yellow. The only difference in taste seems to come from the fact that my mom consistently burns hers, which come to find out, my dad likes. Go figure.

  88. Thanks for the link to that article! I recently relocated to NC (Ft Bragg) and haven’t found anything worth a darn so far. I see a trip to Durham in my very-near future!!

  89. aunt pam

    For a no refined sugar, gluten-free version, I used agave nectar (about 3/4 cup) and brown rice flour; processed the pecans with the rice flour (I added one extra tablespoon due to the agave) and followed the rest of the recipe as written. Yum! Thanks for the wonderful recipe!

  90. Dani

    you can get white corn meal in east harlem…but I suppose that if you live in the East Village in Manhattan 14th street may as well be the mason-dixon line

    1. deb

      Dani — Not sure I follow. A few comments ago (119), I mentioned I must have missed it at my bodega last week. Or in other words: ARGH.

  91. Jen

    I made this cake today, and made it gluten free by substituting Pamela’s GF Baking and Pancake Mix for the flour. Fabulous! Despite my boyfriend’s skepticism about a cake made from cornmeal, it was absolutely delicious and a big hit, especially with his mom who has Celiac.

  92. touched by sun

    Deb, I shouldn’t speak for Dani, but there’s an old saying among those of us who grew up on the Lower East Side (aka the East Village) that if you can’t get it below 14th Street, you don’t really need it! Which is why we (collectively) have sighed a breath of relief that your neighborhood bodega DID have white cornmeal. All is right in the world (of NYC neighborhoods).

  93. dave

    oh man. just made this tonight and it was divine. i only did a 3 hour wait time, and all was good. definitely going to make it again.

  94. This is awesome, I’m a new transplant to NC (Winston Salem). I recently went shopping for yellow cornmeal, and what did I find? Probably 10 types of White Cornmeal and only 1 brand of regular yellow (all the other yellows were self rising). So now that I worked so hard not to buy it, I believe I will be going right back to Harris Teeter to buy some White Cornmeal. I would totally buy you a bag! If you would like me to just email me an address and I will ship it right away. A gift to you for all the lovely posts on this site.

    I cant wait to try this!


  95. RicaSuave521

    This looks fantastic and I look forward to trying … but I have a science question regarding the leavening agent. Since most bakers tell you to move quickly once baking powder/soda are mixed with the wet ingredients so that their gasses are released in the oven, making the crumb nice and light – should you do the same with this recipe? in other words, mix everything BUT the tsp baking powder before putting in the fridge overnight, then mix that in right before pouring into the pan??? just wondering …

  96. Morgan

    Being a southern girl, anything with cornmeal, butter, and pecans calls me to one of my 13 pieces of cast iron cookware. The cake is one of the most delicious desserts I have made in a very long time…. a hit! I did not strain the butter for full browned flavor and used 2 Tbls. medium grind + 5 Tbls. regular grind stone ground yellow cornmeal……Took your suggestion and used parchment with no problem removing from tart pan. Thank you for this winner!!!

  97. That looks ridiculously good!:) Can’t wait to have fresh local strawberries. It’s been cold spring, so it’ll take a while before strawberry season.

  98. It is the simplest task of browning butter that has led to so many people falling in love with such plain, simple-looking cakes that pack so much depth in flavour it dances in your mouth. mmmmm. brown butter. Suppose we should come up with a book just about browned butter. :)

  99. Oh yum! What else can be said. I made a Reese’s pb pie this weekend which was super. And there is a giveaway for Reese’s going on if interested…maybe to make more of your delicious treats?

  100. This sounds amazing, and I love anything cornbread-ish.

    What I do with my extra egg yolks is either ice cream or lemon curd. Of course, it would be a very large batch of lemon curd to use four egg yolks (the recipe I follow is 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks).

  101. Laura

    I would love to know why else you love NC! I am seriously considering a move there (from Chicago) but worry about leaving my city!

  102. Killian

    Deb, this sounds fantastic. I’ve lived in NC for nearly 14yrs now and we’ve got some amazing restaurants here! Quick question — my FIL loves cashews like no one I have ever seen. Do you think roasted cashews could be substituted for the pecans?

  103. Tonia

    What to do with yolks? Lemon curd, cream brule, yellow cake, homemade ice cream, vanilla pudding, lemon bars, sour cream lemon pie, homemade whoopee pies. . .I actually made two of these items this past weekend and was wondering what to do with the left over whites: now I know!! Thanks Deb!

  104. Laura Lee

    Mmmmm….made this yesterday for Mother’s Day. Absolutely delicious! Thanks for the great recipe. I too am on the search for white cornmeal out here in California. When I find it, I’m going to make this again :)

  105. Killian

    Laura — I love Chicago, but NC is definitely “home.” If you’re considering a move here, well, we aren’t perfect, but in general, you’ll find that we’re pretty welcoming. We have big cities, plenty of culture, we’ve got plenty of places that are very encouraging of alternative lifestyles, we’ve got phenomenal, fresh food, and best of all, we have gorgeous landscapes. The mountains and the ocean are within a few hours of each other. You”ll find 4 distinct seasons here, although the winters are nowhere near as severe as IL. (Lived in Champaign for 4yrs and man, we got hammered!)

    There is a little place in Durham that makes authentic beignets, and I cannot for the life of me remember the name of it…Rue something maybe? Crud. Anyone familiar with it?

  106. JB

    If you can’t already, soon you’ll be able to feed Jacob egg yolk omelets (no egg whites until over a year). Waste not, want not :)

  107. Lindsey W.

    This cake looks simplistic and amazing, however I will have to put it on my list for later this summer. This week I’m making your gooey butter cakes, and I am definitely making your corn tomato pie this summer, as soon as I can get some amazing tomatoes and corn. I’m going to try to make it on vacation because they have amazing produce in Cashiers, NC. You are doing a great job with these. As always we will be waiting for your next recipe like baby birds with our mouths open.

  108. JRM

    For some reason I am always tickled that you have a fondness for Southern food. I’m not sure why. Get yourself to Memphis and Oxford, MS.

  109. angie t

    the yolks can be used in homemade puddings. i use a blender to stir while it cooks,saves the wrist on using a wisk.

  110. BKK

    This reminds that it could turn into something I ate in Austin!
    I would throw blueberries in to the mix before baking, then cut a slice after baking and griddle it up in a pan, serve with agave nectar.

  111. jen

    I made this over the weekend. Followed your directions exactly, including the parchment lined pan. Came out exactly like your picture, and it was delicious!

  112. linnie

    I never ever post online, but I have to for this recipe. I was so shocked how good this is! I made it gluten free, but substituting 2 1/2 tbl light rice flour for the regular flour and cooking it and extra 5-10 minutes. I love love love it!!! I’m sure using regular flour would be even better… Please let me know if anyone else has also tried to make it gluten free!

  113. This article seems like a copycat article that was recently written about Durham’s neighbor, Chapel Hill. I only know because I live here…
    Great recipe though!

  114. Deb,

    Email me if you want me to send you some white corn meal. Here in the Midwest, we have it. Of course, I still struggle for some items, but family all over the country certainly helps! I’ll be your “foodie friend” in Kansas City.


  115. That meal looks great. Coming from the south as well, its nice to see pecan used in such a great way. I’m sure that it taste just as great as it looks.

  116. April

    This sounds amazing! And as a Southerner, I believe the pecan is the king of nuts. For those leftover yolks, how about a nice lemon or lime curd? It might event be nice on the cake itself? A nice dollop, instead of berries? Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

  117. Aprille

    Oh man! Took this with me to work today and it was gone in no time! Thanks for the awesome recipe!

    I used a few extra pecans to make it extra pecan-y, used medium grind yellow cornmeal, and only refrigerated the batter for an impatient 2.5 hrs- and it still turned out great, with just a tiny crackle from the cornmeal. Yum!

  118. halfbakedcake

    @Melanie, the only NY Times article I remember recently about Chapel Hill was one about women outnumbering men at UNC. Both the recent Times article and the Gourmet article from a year or so ago about area taquerias were centered on Durham. I think Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen was mentioned in the 36 hrs in RTP story, though.

  119. anewsome

    I NEVER comment (too shy) but I felt compelled to mention to you and others that you can freeze egg yolks, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation webpage for instructions (how to freeze eggs). Just in case you get too busy to use them.

  120. Eun Ju

    Is it okay to substitute pecans with walnuts? BTW, I tried your lime yogurt cake and it was absolutely yummy!

  121. Becky

    You had me at pecans, but wow with the brown butter and cornmeal, this cake was fantastic. I love the texture, it has a very tender crumb and it was hard to stop eating it. You could even serve it plain, it’s so tasty! Egg yolks: in my house, we always use them up making creme brulee. White cornmeal: if anyone lives near a Wegmans I found it right away in their International Foods section in “Latin America” right near all the tortilla-making ingredients.

  122. Xntric

    Oh my, this southerner knew grits were hard to find ‘up north’ – but white corn meal also?
    I must try this cake … smitten with the name!

  123. Michellers

    Made this last night (after an overnight in the fridge which I highly recommend) and it was good, really good. The chewy pecan/cornmeal texture is great and the whole thing is surprisingly light. Next time I might try cooking in in 2 small cake pans, dribbling some liqueur on each layer with a slick of whipped cream in between and on top, and decorate with strawberries.

    The parchment paper worked like a charm, by the way: no problem with sticking.

    One word of advice: don’t forget to put your tart pan on a cookie sheet (unless you like scraping burned cake out of your oven).

  124. jo ann greenfield

    your blog is recommended in the new everday food magazine that just came in the mail. what a terrific recommendation. i am going to make this cake tomorrow.

  125. l. campbell

    This cake looks absolutely delicious. I’ve never tried making a cake with cornmeal, but I can imagine this as the perfect ending to a wonderful lunch/brunch.

    As for white cornmeal, I’m pretty sure I used to get white cornmeal in New York City at the big Fairway on 127th street, up in Harlem. It’s been a few years, so I might be misremembering that, but I suggest trying uptown!


  126. Jill O

    Butter, Pecans, and white Cornmeal- got my attention right away. I had all the ingredients in my kitchen and decided that it would be the perfect birthday cake for a southern boy especially with local strawberries just in season.
    The steps of browning the butter and toasting the pecans just gave it a unique flavor and cornmeal the texture.I couldn’t have imagined how good this was!

  127. I finally made this! I had to sub cashews for pecans due to one of my allergies and I didn’t strain the browned butter…but it was good! Really good actually. This has me wondering how almonds would taste…

    I made 4 little 4″ cakes with a well (much like boughten strawberry cups) and whipped up some heavy cream and cut up some fresh strawberries. Then made the 30 minute drive to my sisters house. Where me, my girl, my sister and her boy ate every…nearly up. Everyone liked, I loved…my girl is not so much of a cake person and my sister’s boy not so much of a sweets person (crazy!), BUT they all liked it and was impressed by the fact that it didn’t taste like cornbread!

    I will totally be making this again!
    Thanks for sharing!

    PS I read your contact info page and now know you do not except freebies. However if you decide you would like a small bag of white cornmeal just let me know, its only $1.79 at Harris Teeter and I would be very happy to send you some!

  128. Eunice

    I go to Watts Grocery all the time- the problem is it is REALLY close to where I live. And I just had this dessert tonight, with the last of the season’s strawberries and pistachio ice cream. And you would love this place, along with many others in the food scene. Feel free to give me a call when you’re in town!

    If you are looking for a source of some of the best cornmeal in NC try Guilford Mills– it’s about an hour’s drive away from Durham, and I swear it makes the best cornmeal ever-whether for cornbread, fried okra, and probably this cake. I hoard their cornmeal every chance I get. :-)

  129. SpoonMeasure

    I made this and it was delicious! I am allergic to pecans to I used almonds and I made it gluten free by using some Bob’s Red Mill gluten free all purpose. You should definitely file this under one that comes out great gluten free. I also scattered some berries on top before baking. The cake rose all around them and it was so tasty. Everyone loved it. I used my egg yolks to make pasta dough. Fresh pasta freezes so well.

  130. Shannon

    At the Farmer’s Market in Carrboro, NC they had local chefs demonstrating recipes. One of them was a chef at Watt’s Grocery (I forget her name) and she was handing out the best f***ing meatloaf recipe I have eaten, hands down. I made it for the first time for guests and couldn’t help but coo about it glories along with them, even though I’d made it and it seemed like bragging (all props go to Watt’s). Shame on us, though, we haven’t made it over there yet… this cake definitely confirms for us that a trip is in the near future!

  131. Just finished scarfing down my first piece! It was delicious!! Followed your recipe…though I invariably forgot the parchment paper (whoops!). The only thing I did differently was to use peaches in place of strawberries….soooo yummy. The perfect amount of sweet and a texture that keeps my mouth guessing. Love it and love your blog!!!!

  132. Bee

    To post #160 RicaSuave521: I too am sciencey and had the same question you did: Should you “mix everything BUT the tsp baking powder before putting in the fridge overnight, then mix that in right before pouring into the pan??? just wondering …”. A friend had made this cake before as per the directions and I thought I would conduct an experiment. So I did as you suggested, mixed everything together minus the tsp baking powder, let the batter sit in the fridge for 3hrs, then mixed in the baking powder and baked. Result = no difference, and equally delicious of course. The batter came out of the fridge like cement, all the moisture being absorbed into the cornmeal and flour. I wonder if the logic behind putting the baking powder in at the beginning is that when the batter cements all the air bubbles would be trapped inside. Perhaps a bit like Sticky Date Pudding, where you add baking soda to chopped dates with hot water–helps fluffy up a sticky mixure.
    Either way, still Delicious!

  133. Pattyk

    I just wanted to let you know that I love this cake. Since I’m a southerner I use white cornmeal. I’ve made it for friends who don’t eat sweets very much and they think it’s much better with strawberries than regular shortcake. When I reheat it, I stick it under the broiler to get that crispyness back on the top like it has when first baked. Thanks for posting it.

  134. Susan Vandermeer

    I realize you posted this recipe a year ago but I just clicked on it this past weekend and made the cake per the NY Times recipe. Wow, it was so delicious! My family and friends raved about it and we enjoyed it so much. I will be making it again, especially when peaches come into season. Fantastic!

  135. CourtneyJ

    Ooooh ooh! Thanks for this! My cousin’s fiancé doesn’t like pie (what self-respecting person doesn’t like pie?) so I got put in charge of making cake and ice cream this thanksgiving. I doubled this recipe AND had precisely the exact amount of yolks to make my signature coffee ice cream!!! Oh perfection :) We’ll just not talk about how dear 2 quarts of strawberries are in November ;)

  136. shalomcharlotte

    Thank you for this recipe. It is definitely a keeper!
    I wish I could post a picture to show how well it came out. The smell of delicious caramelization is filling the house, yum!
    Thanks again for sharing this.

  137. Jack

    So I made this as my Christmas cake for a wintery eve at a friend’s house and I totally loved it. I just added a mound of whipped cream to each slice. Great recipe. Thanks!

  138. Grace

    Deb, I know what you mean about the egg whites. The same thing has prevented me from trying many a recipe. But this looks SO GOOD (and I recently acquired 15 pounds of corn meal in a fit of insanity – but let’s not talk about that, shall we?) that I have to try it. I figure this is the perfect excuse to try making your 7 yolk pasta dough.

  139. NancyNS

    I just made this for the second time. The first time, I didn’t pause in the middle (bad time management). I did this time, and this cake was OUT OF THIS WORLD good. I am sitting here dreaming of the cake and hoping that there is still some left when I get home. If not, I might be making it again! Also, my kids just moved to Durham, and have taken us to Watts Grocery, but i didn’t have this. Another great reason to return! I love your cakes!

  140. Question about the cold batter: are we supposed to take it out before spooning it into the mold? I didn’t and it ended up being quite tricky to transfer. After a few minutes in the oven I was able to even it out but just curious. Thank you

  141. Trisha

    Hi! I made this recipe as posted and it was lovely! I happened to have egg whites leftover from making ice cream, so that was no problem, but I’m wondering why the recipe calls for whites in the first place? They aren’t whipped to lighten the batter, so I don’t know why you couldn’t just use a few whole eggs?

    1. deb

      Trisha — Just a different style of cake. Egg white cakes are a little studier but lighter. They don’t need to be whipped to impart this to a cake. No reason not to try tweaking it with yolks, though, for ease. I might use 2 whole eggs instead of 4 whites to start.

  142. Amelia

    This recipe makes a delicious cake. Only change I made was decreasing the granulated sugar by a tablespoon to cut back on the sweetness. Served it with homemade bourbon ice cream. Wonderful!