We couldn’t have our cake and eat it, too — until we learned that Christina Lee, the pastry chef at the Gander’s (15 West 18th Street, 212-229-9500), was putting vegetables in hers.
Summer was on the mind when Lee conceived of the brown-sugar corn cake, with plum, lemon verbena, sesame flax pecans, and ginger. “With summer comes fresh sweet corn, and delicious cornbread,” Lee says. “I wanted to make a version of this, but something more moist and sweet.”
Lee starts by roasting corn in butter before creating a creamed butter batter with the corn, which then meets two types of cornmeal. Once the cake is removed from the oven — “The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure the cake is warm, as to contrast to the cold ingredients,” Lee notes — she adds plums for color and complexity, ginger for a kick, and a sprinkling of pecans for textural depth. The idea to add lemon was also spurred by the high-temperature season. “I initially began thinking about other summer favorites like lemonade and Italian ices,” Lee says. “The lemon curd adds acidity to balance the sweetness of the corn and the cake.”
As for why corn was even considered for a sweet dish? Lee confirms that the potential of the state-fair staple goes well beyond salt and butter. “Corn is great with sweet dishes because it has so much natural sweetness — especially if it is in the peak of the season,” she explains. “When roasted, it adds a bit of nuttiness as well.”