This is not your fancy bakery cake, but rather a homey dessert that would work following a light dinner. It resembles sweet cornbread but has orange slices embedded in the top that become caramelized and candied when baked.
Also, in a rather homey style, the cake is baked in a cast-iron pan. The recipe is for a 12-inch diameter pan but you can cut the recipe in half for a 9-inch pan, like I did.
The recipe is from a February 2017 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The article includes an evaluation of 12 cast iron pans that are currently available for sale. Pans are judged by their ability to hold heat, sear and clean up easily. The Editor’s Choice for 2017 was the Lodge 12-inch pan, second was the 11 ½ inch Country Cabin pre-seasoned cast iron and third, was the 11 ¾ inch Le Creuset Signature.
I have a varied cast iron pan collection that I gathered along the way from family, as well as one griddle that was salvaged from a sinking logging camp off of northern Vancouver Island in the 1970s. Since logging operations moved around up and down the island, the camps were built on floating wooden booms and dragged by boats to new locations where they were tied up to trees along the shore. This one had long been abandoned and most of it was already under a foot of water. The kitchen had not sunk yet and I managed to claim a griddle.
My prize cast iron fry pan is made by Griswold, a company that made cast iron products from 1865 to 1957 out of Erie, Pennsylvania. I got it from my mother-in-law who had a sharp eye for valuables when shopping at Goodwill and other second-hand stores. It has a beautiful smooth finish and is thinner than most cast iron pans. You can pick them up online from Etsy, eBay or the like, for less money than some of the new ones mentioned above.
Orange Cornmeal Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cup white sugar
1 cup whole milk
4 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
1 large washed and unpeeled orange sliced into 1/8” inch slices
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the batter, in a medium bowl by first whisking flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl, cream softened butter with an electric beater. Add sugar and beat 1 minute until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one. The mixture should be well and fluffy.
Alternately add half of the flour mixture, half the milk, mixing until each is blended then repeat. Stir in the orange zest.
Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat for 1-2 minutes on the stove. Add the ½ cup of butter and stir around until the bottom of the pan is coated.
Whisk in the brown sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons of vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes until thickened and caramelized. Stir in thyme leaves and remove from heat.
Arrange the orange sliced in one even layer on the bottom of the pan. Spoon batter evenly over the orange slices. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until knife or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
When baked, set cake out to cool for 5 minutes. Then, carefully invert on a serving plate. Add any fruit or topping that has stuck onto the cake. Cool 20 minutes more. Garnish with thyme springs and serve.
Sarah Ringler is a retired schoolteacher. She worked as a cook for 8 years before being a teacher, and also taught a cooking class at Pajaro Middle School for several years. She comes from a long line of serious cooks and passed the tradition on to her children, grandchildren, students and, hopefully, her readers.