Before starting this baking and blogging project, I had a preconceived notion that cakes are frosted or glazed. I feel naive admitting it, but that's generally the way it goes in my native Kentucky and in most restaurants I've visited. First you choose a variety of cake: white, yellow, chocolate, red velvet, strawberry, carrot, etc. Then you choose your icing: buttercream, cream cheese, ganache, glaze, fondant, perhaps something fruity, etc. Voila, cake!
Thankfully, this project has given me insight into how varied cake can be, particularly cake toppings. The third recipe we made was caramel cake: a nice, moist yellow sponge with a layer of liquid caramel poured over the top. Later, for our sixteenth recipe, we made one of my favorite cakes ever - fresh ginger cake. If you would have told me that an unfrosted dessert cake loaded with ginger and molasses would someday become one of my favorite foods, I would have foolishly laughed.
This week's recipe (our fortieth!) was a cornmeal and olive oil cake with a layer of sanding sugar baked into its surface. For a third time, I've had to expand my definition of cake and cake toppings. At first I thought the cake sounded odd if delicious. After baking the cake, I've decided that the recipe strikes a nice balance between sophistication and simplicity.
This cake is good. It would taste nice even without the sugar topping, but that thin layer really pushes the cake to the next level. I used 1/4 cup of Opal Sanding Sugar from Confectionery House. He bought it for me as a present last year, and I finished it off on this cake. It's a beautiful, subtle mixture of various pastel sanding sugars and traditional white sanding sugar. I highly suggest it, and I'm tempted to go ahead and order more.
The crumb of this cake is nice, too. The effect of the cornmeal is more discernible in the texture than in the flavor of the cake, and the same can be said for the olive oil. I'm thankful that I watched the video posted on the website featuring the recipe. Had I not seen it, I would have probably used a too-flavorful extra virgin olive oil instead of a mild "olive oil." To me, the most notable flavors came from the wine (I used Pine Ridge 2009 Chenin Blanc ~ Viognier) and the zest of a blood orange plus a touch of zest from a navel orange. The resultant flavor of these ingredients is a cake that I'd describe as light, sweet and citrusy. Give this one a try!