Pâtisserie / Recipe

Custard-filled cornbread

Yesterday, two am.

Tonight, we ate al fresco. In our garden. Who said you’re not allowed to play make-believe anymore?

I made dessert. One strawberry tart, only it’s so much more. Black olives, vanilla, and olive oil shortbread. White chocolate crémeux. Strawberries from the little patch that somehow resisted the month of May; or perhaps, I should say the month of rain. Strawberry coulis and jam, just so. I topped it with borage flowers, and basil blossoms. And it was pretty amazing. We had a slice each. And then a second.

By that time, mosquitos began dancing around us. And every star started to rise into the sky, not unlike a slow-motion time-lapse.

After dinner, I read. A lot. And sometime, between one and two am, I found the following quotation from We Girls: A Home Story about spider cakes:

“Barbara got up some of her special cookery in these days. Not her very finest, out of Miss Leslie; she said that was too much like the fox and the crane, when Lucilla asked for the receipts. It wasn’t fair to give a taste of things that we ourselves could only have for very best, and send people home to wish for them. She made some of her “griddles trimmed with lace,” as only Barbara’s griddles were trimmed; the brown lightness running out at the edges into crisp filigree. And another time it was the flaky spider-cake, turned just as it blushed golden-tawny over the coals; and then it was breakfast potato, beaten almost frothy with one white-of-egg, a pretty good bit of butter, a few spoonfuls of top-of-the-milk, and seasoned plentifully with salt, and delicately with pepper,—the oven doing the rest, and turning it into a snowy soufflé.”
Adeline Dutton Train Whitney (1870), We Girls: A Home Story

A bit of a rabbit-hole, which Jessica Fechtor entered first, and I felt obliged to follow. Looking up the definition of spider cake seemed like an obvious first step, a word of U.S. origin meaning “a cake cooked in a spider pan”.
Rather unapologetically, I began scouring eBay for spider pans, a sort of frying pan with legs. And delved into its history, a link shared by Jessica. But perhaps, most importantly, I fell asleep thinking about the custard-filled cornbread she’d made following Molly’s adaptation of a Marion Cunningham recipe. Perhaps, the most food-writing hall of fame-ish sentence I have ever written?

This morning, eight am.

I woke up with the sun through curtains so light they seemed to glow. And before coffee even begun to run through the maker, I buttered a 24cm-wide cake tin and turned the oven on.

Coarse polenta got mixed with flour, sugar, and a lot of milk. And cream was poured with no other explanation than this spider cornbread I’d read about yesterday.

I didn’t grow up on cornbread. But cornbread grew up on me.
It might have been because of that guy with deep-blue eyes and the cutest American accent ever. He would make me peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and halve strawberries into salads. But that’s another story, one I will possibly never tell, and rather frankly, this cornbread cannot wait.

While it was in the oven, I rolled puff pastry and made vanilla crème diplomate. I wrote a little too. And after an hour had passed, I took the glorious bubbling cake out from the oven and let it cool while coffee was finally being made.

I had a slice, still warm, with plenty of runny honey. And trust me, I think all mornings should be like this.

Custard-filled cornbread
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life.

I did not know what to expect from this cake. Sure, knowing both Molly and Jessica, I knew it’d be good. Even with a picture in front of my very eyes, I couldn’t help but feel like magic is always involved when a batter separates into layers.
When it was just baked, I could barely wait to slice it. And the cream was still on the slightly runny gooey side. Not that there is anything wrong with it. Now, a few hours later, it’s firmed up into a silky custard (yes, I totally had a pre-lunch slice).

The edges remind me of canelés. The bottom is rich with corn. And the top feels like a pillow of creamy custard.

Custard-filled cornbread

Makes one 24cm cornbread.

50 g butter
140 g flour
120 g coarse polenta or cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a fat pinch salt
2 eggs
45 g caster sugar
480 g whole milk
50 g butter, melted
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
240 g double cream

Butter a 24cm-wide cake tin, preheat the oven to 150°C/fan 170°C, and place the tin in the oven to warm up.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, polenta, baking powder and salt. In a jug, whisk the eggs and sugar, add the milk, butter, vinegar and vanilla extract.
Slowly pour the wet ingredients over the flour, and mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter in the hot tin, then slowly pour the cream in the centre of the batter. Bake for one hour. Allow to cool for 30 minutes or longer, and serve in thick slices with maple syrup or honey.


  • MOnsterscircus
    June 8, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    What a lovely dish, I love polenta! Have a beautiful weekend

    • fanny
      June 8, 2012 at 12:33 PM

      You too! I don’t know if your corner of the world is as sunny as here, but it promises only good things. x

  • thelittleloaf
    June 8, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    This post paints such an incredibly beautiful picture. Makes me want to eat and bake and laze in the early morning sun all at once 🙂

    • fanny
      June 8, 2012 at 12:36 PM

      And that sounds like the best thing to do… Every single day if you ask me! xx

  • Rosane
    June 8, 2012 at 11:01 PM

    Your cake looks soooo delicious! I must try this recipe. We love corn meal cakes and breads.
    My mother makes a cake that looks like yours but without double cream. Instead she uses more milk, sugar, one extra egg and grated parmesan cheese (!!!). She mixes everything and the custard just appears like magic 🙂 and the parmesan gives a cheesy taste to the cake. It taste also very good with coffee. I saw your cake and missed her. But I digress. Sorry!
    Thank you for sharing the recipes.
    P.S. I love your blog!

    • fanny
      June 9, 2012 at 11:45 AM

      Rosane, your mother’s cake sounds so delicious. I’d love to have the recipe! And make it turn a simple morning in something amazing. xx

      • Rosane
        June 9, 2012 at 9:21 PM

        Hi Fanny,
        It was nice to hear from you! I was very surprised.
        Here is the recipe:
        · 4 eggs
        · 4 tablespoons of butter or margarine
        · 2 ½ cups milk
        · 250 g sugar
        · 200 g polenta (don’t use the very thin one like cake flour!)
        · 100 g grated Parmesan cheese
        · 2 tablespoons plain flour
        · 1 tablespoon baking powder

        · Blend the liquid ingredients (eggs, butter, milk) in a blender. Add the dry ingredients (sugar, corn meal, flour, parmesan cheese, baking powder) and blend well (the mixture is runny, don’t worry!)
        · Put the cake mixture in a mould previously greased with butter and dusted with wheat flour. Bake the cake in preheated oven (350 F) for 35-50 minutes (depends on the pan) or until golden brown and done.
        · let the cake cool down. Remove the cake from the mould and serve

        I usually bake in a square mold. It bakes quicker but if you use a deeper baking pan (bundt pan) the cheese custard will be broader. Hmmmmm……
        If you want to see how it looks like, you can see some pics here:


        Keep your beautiful blog going 🙂

        • fanny
          June 10, 2012 at 10:05 PM

          Wonderful. Thank you so much Rosane. I have the feeling that it’s going to be on my to-do list soon! x

  • […] Custard filled cornbread @ Like a Strawberry Milk […]

  • Marion
    June 12, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Doux Jésus, ça a l’air incroyable !

  • Lucia
    June 25, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    Oh dear, I’ve never tasted cornbread and now it feels as if my life has been empty without it. I’ll fill it as soon as possible with your recipe!

  • Melissa@Julia's Bookbag
    July 3, 2012 at 5:25 AM

    Fanny, I’ve been meaning to write to you for awhile. Your recipes look DIVINE and I have been pinning them! I’ve actually had your blog marked for awhile as an inspiration in blog design. I ADORE YOUR LAYOUT! Can you tell me who designed your blog?

  • Justa
    January 13, 2014 at 10:21 PM

    I have no idea how I came across your blog but I’m glad I did 🙂

    Thank you for sharing all those recipes!

    Greetings from Poland. x


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