This Cake Has True Grit: Honey-Poached Apricot Cornmeal Crunch Cake

Last weekend I picked up a quart of gorgeous apricots at the farmer's market and I looked for a recipe to put them to use. I've already made an apricot tart, so I wanted to try something different. I decided to go with Regan Daley's recipe for "Honey-Poached Apricot Cornmeal Crunch Cake" from In the Sweet Kitchen because it seemed a bit unusual; a layer of poached apricots sandwiched inside a cornmeal cake, served with a honey-vanilla syrup. Daley says: "Heady with the flavours of honeyed ripe fruit and vanilla perfume, the cake itself is both crunchy and tender; and the syrup is to die for."

The first step is to poach the apricots. You cut them in half, remove the pits, and place in them in saucepan with water, sugar, honey, a vanilla bean, a cinnamon stick, and lemon juice. You bring the apricots to a simmer and poach them until they "are very soft, to the point of extreme softness, but not quite to the point of complete collapse." You remove the fruit and drain it, and then return the poaching liquid to the pot and reduce it to a medium-thick syrup.

The cake batter is very quick to put together. You simply stir together cornmeal, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon, and cut in cold butter. Then you work in a couple of eggs with your fingers until you get a moist and crumbly mixture. You press half of the cornmeal mixture in a greased springform pan and press it down firmly. Then you spoon on the apricots, crumble the remaining cornmeal mixture over the fruit, drizzle a little syrup on top, and bake.

The cake was nicely browned on top after baking, and the spots where I had drizzled on syrup were shiny and extra dark. You serve the cake with syrup on the side; I kept my syrup in the fridge (even though the cookbook says you can keep it at room temperature) and it thickened to the consistency of fruit preserves. I wish I had included some syrup in the photo above; it was a beautiful deep amber like maple syrup, flecked with vanilla beans. The syrup is sweet and almost floral, with the wonderful warm flavor of honey and vanilla. Daley suggests serving any leftover syrup with pancakes, oatmeal, or over ice cream or fresh apricots. 

This cake alone was very tasty, and with the syrup, it was pretty amazing. I usually don't like the gritty texture of cornmeal in desserts because it gives me the sensation of eating small pebbles. But in this cake, the texture totally works. The top layer of cake batter is very crunchy, so the grit magnifies its wonderful texture. If anything, I wish I had drizzled on more syrup before baking, because the spots that had syrup on them baked into the crunchiest parts of the cake. While the flavor of the poached apricots is wonderful, I wouldn't say they were the star of the cake; that honor would have to go to either the cornmeal or the syrup.

I definitely plan to make this again when I have ripe apricots on hand. As Daley says, "Make this during the precious apricot season (June into July); the other eleven months of the year you can just fantasize about it!"

Recipe: "Honey-Poached Apricot Cornmeal Crunch Cake" from In the Sweet Kitchen: the Definitive Baker's Companion by Regan Daley.

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Louise said…
Yesterday I got some great local apricots and peaches at the farmers market. I hope you did the same. I've been wondering what would happen with this recipe if I use part corn flour instead of all cornmeal. I don't have time to try it right now as we're leaving on a motorcycle trip to Alaska. :-)