Yeasted Cornmeal Coffee Cake

published Feb 27, 2023
Yeasted Cornmeal Coffee Cake Recipe

Inspired a recipe from Malinda Russell, this coffee cake calls for cornmeal, cooked rice, and uses yeast as its leavener. The texture of the cake sits somewhere between cornbread and baked rice pudding. It's not too sweet, and great with tea.

Serves9 to 12

Prep20 minutes

Cook50 minutes to 55 minutes

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Whole coffee cake in baking pan.
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Stylist: Micah Morton; Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams

In 1855, Malinda Russell, a free Black woman from Tennessee, published A Domestic Cookbook: Containing a Careful Selection of Useful Receipts for the Kitchen, the first known cookbook written by an African American. It was only a few years ago that I first learned of Russell and her extraordinary achievements, and while I was wowed by what I discovered about her, I was disappointed that it had taken me so long to find out about her in the first place. 

In hopes of giving others the opportunity to learn about Russell and her life, this Black History Month we’re celebrating the legacy of Black baking. Russell was a successful pastry chef who ran both a pastry shop and a boarding house in Tennessee as a single mother. The recipes in her cookbook cover all manner of foods, but her vast knowledge of baking is particularly on display in the book. In honor of Russell, Vallery Lomas and I decided to recreate dessert recipes from the book with our own twist on them. 

As I scrolled through the pages, I realized that while some recipes were incredibly bare-bones, the most important elements were always there. You’re able to experiment based on her instructions and your own baking know-how. I especially enjoyed looking at the vast (and I mean vast) array of cake recipes — especially when she used techniques or ingredients that I found to be unexpected. 

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Stylist: Micah Morton; Prop Stylist: Gerri Williams

That was certainly the case for her coffee cake recipe. I was expecting something with lots of cinnamon and streusel, but instead, Russell’s coffee cake called for cornmeal, cooked rice, and it used yeast as the leavener. It was hard not to be intrigued by all of that! There wasn’t much by way of instructions. In fact, the recipe reads in its entirety: “Bake soft boiled rice; add twice as much flour as rice, a handful Indian meal, and a little yeast; mix overnight, and bake in the morning.” 

I decided that my version would be a yeasted cornmeal coffee cake. My mind immediately started running through calculations about what amount of rice, flour, and cornmeal to include. My aim was to make this cake taste like cornbread and baked rice pudding had a baby. In other words, I wanted this cake to be a textural paradise that would taste delicious with a cup of coffee or Earl Grey tea in the morning. Something that’s not too sweet, but sweet enough to feel like cake and not just cornbread. 

This cake reminds me that so often less truly is more in the kitchen. A Domestic Cookbook is a testament to the fact that you can make delicious sweet treats without having to use what feels like a million and one ingredients. This cake is incredibly simple to make and it relies primarily on pantry staples. My favorite part, however, is that it is an excellent way to use up that last bit of cooked rice in the fridge. Thank you to Malinda for the inspiration!

Yeasted Cornmeal Coffee Cake Recipe

Inspired a recipe from Malinda Russell, this coffee cake calls for cornmeal, cooked rice, and uses yeast as its leavener. The texture of the cake sits somewhere between cornbread and baked rice pudding. It's not too sweet, and great with tea.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes to 55 minutes

Serves 9 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 1 cup

    whole milk

  • 1 (1/4 ounce) packet

    instant dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 1/2 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

  • 3/4 cup

    vegetable oil

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • 1 1/2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup

    fine cornmeal

  • 1/2 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground nutmeg

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 cup

    room temperature cooked white rice

Instructions

  1. Let 2 large eggs sit on the counter until room temperature.

  2. Heat 1 cup whole milk until warm to the touch (100 to 110ºF). Place in a large bowl, sprinkle with 1 (1/4-ounce) packet instant dry yeast and 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, and stir to combine. Let sit until foamy, 4 to 5 minutes.

  3. Add the eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Whisk until combined. Add 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup fine cornmeal, 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar, the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix with a wooden spoon or flexible spatula until smooth. Add 1 cup room temperature cooked white rice and fold to combine.

  4. Cover and let in a warm place until the batter is puffy and bubbles appear on the surface, about 1 hour.

  5. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with two overlapping sheets of parchment paper so that it hangs off all four sides and forms a sling (place them perpendicular to each other).

  6. Transfer the batter into the baking dish and smooth the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes.

  7. Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Grasping the excess parchment, lift the cake out of the baking dish and place on the rack. Let cool completely. Transfer the cake to a cutting board and cut into 9 or 12 pieces.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.