These days, I am completely obsessed with stone fruits. Every time I go to the store, I pick some up, either to eat fresh or to cook with. I am featuring apricots in this recipe, but peaches, nectarines, or even plums would work just as well. I came across this recipe from A Spicy Perspective, a beautiful blog from professional writer, recipe developer, and food stylist, Summer Collier. What intrigued me was her addition of Chinese Five-Spice Powder, which I have only (narrow-mindedly) used in savory dishes.
Chinese Five-Spice Powder is one of the essential seasonings used in Chinese cooking. It blends the five primary flavors of Chinese cuisine: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savory. Traditionally, it is composed of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, clove, and Szechuan peppercorns, but in some regions, ginger is used instead of fennel. In looking at the list of ingredients, it makes perfect sense to use Chinese Five-Spice Powder in baking, perhaps instead of nutmeg or cinnamon, for a more complex and unexpected flavor. It is a pungent blend of spices, so a little definitely goes a long way.
These cakes are light and fluffy, like a cross between coffee cake and cornbread, with a nice, pleasant crunch from the cornmeal. The orange zest and Chinese Five-Spice Powder complement each other, giving the cake a nice hint of orange spice. They are not overly sweet, so they’re perfect for breakfast or afternoon tea. I served these for dessert, with a little unsweetened whipped cream.
As I read the recipe the first time, I imagined the cakes to be a bit rustic so instead of baking these in a muffin tin, I made individual cakes baked in mini cast-ron skillets. I love the presentation and it’s a nice transition as we head into fall.
Apricot Cornmeal Cakes
Yields approximately 12 cup cakes or 4 six-inch cakes
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup (8 ounces or 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 7 small ripe apricots, cut into 8 slices each
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour ( I used 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup corn flour*)
1/2 cup fine ground cornmeal*
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice Powder
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
*Note: I find regular coarse cornmeal to be too gritty and overly crunchy in baked goods so I use fine ground cornmeal, for a nice, slightly crunchy texture. I substituted some corn flour to give the cakes a little more corn flavor.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or lightly spray 4 individual 6-inch pans with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine granulated sugar and 1/2 teaspoon orange zest and press down with a spoon to release the oils in the zest.
Using the a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar/orange zest mixture until extremely light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Add the eggs and extracts and mix until well incorporated, scraping the bowl with a spatula as needed.
In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and 2 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice Powder. With the mixer running, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter/egg mixture until just combined. Do not over mix.
Scoop the batter into muffin tin or individual pans. Place apricot slices on the top. Mix the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the apricot cakes.
Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from A Spicy Perspective.
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