A Piece of Cake #36

Fans of MeMe's Diner's sweet corn cake, this one's for you.

I can’t tell you the last time I drank a tall glass of full-strength Country Time Lemonade on purpose. But growing up, our pantry was always stocked with powdered beverages. Tang for camping breakfasts, Crystal Light Strawberry Kiwi for an after-school refreshment, and good old Country Time Lemonade all summer long. Andrew just told me he made some Country Time recently and salted it a little, which sounds possibly good and very possibly like a great hangover cure. But why, you may be asking, was Andrew able to casually pull a tub of Country Time out of our pantry in 2021? Because of this silly little snack cake recipe, of course! 

Citric acid is one of those secret weapon cheffy ingredients that a lot of pastry and savory people rely on. It adds a real tang and bite without adding any extra liquid. It makes lemon taste more like lemon and makes your brain taste “lemon” even when there’s none there. I’ve been using citric acid all summer at our Nor’East Beer Garden residency: the citric acid is what makes the Lemon Frites sing. (And a little bit of MSG doesn’t hurt either.) So, with citric acid on the brain and on the tongue, I wanted to incorporate it into a recipe for the home cook. But citric acid is not a common grocery store item. Sure, some fancy stores in a big city might stock C.A., but out here at the end of the earth, we’re lucky to reliably have flour and sugar in stock at Stop & Shop. But as I realized, you know what’s loaded with citric acid? Country Time Lemonade powder. A veritable flavor bomb, available on aisle 7a, for the low price of $2.79. 

Now, I’m not putting this lemonade powder into just any old buttercream. During a recent family meal at Nor’East, we got onto the discussion of quarantine snacks. And Dave, who’s in town for the summer from Arkansas, was telling us about the grocery store cakes he’d pick up whenever he was feeling down during quarantine. Dave explained that there’s just nothing like the frosting on a grocery store cake. “They got that good grease icing. Mmm!” Every head at the table stopped and turned to Dave for further explanation. “You know, grease icing. Icing made from grease! The good stuff.” And of course, I knew what he meant, even if I’d never heard it called that. Grocery store icing is made from vegetable shortening, beat to hell, for a very long time, until it transforms into a sugary cloud that leaves a slight film on the roof of your mouth. It’s industrial-strength icing. It’s a deeply nostalgic food that deserves its rightful place in the canon of American frostings. Grease icing has a place and a time, and that time is now. 

I did add some butter to balance out the “grease” in this grease icing recipe, but it’s predominantly Crisco in there. The trick here is to beat the icing until you think you're done, at which point you’ll want to beat it some more, and then repeat. You want the powdered sugar and lemonade powder to completely dissolve, leaving you with a smooth, fluffy cloud of Country Time. And if you still have a slight grit from the lemonade powder after all that beating, just let it rest at room temp. The great thing about a powdered beverage mix is that they are literally made to dissolve. (Albeit, usually in cold water and not in whipped vegetable fat.) 

I’m excited about this month’s snack cake icing, but I don’t want to undersell the cake itself. One of the most requested recipes from my MeMe’s Diner days is my sweet corn cake. And here it is, finally. I’ll let you in on a little secret: the sweet corn cake recipe is honestly my yellow cake recipe with fresh, raw sweet corn kernels folded in. The base of this recipe will probably sound familiar to longtime readers, as it’s the mother recipe for many of my butter-based cakes. But the addition of peak season corn is really some kind of alchemy. 

The trick to making this cake is really all in the technique. Please, please use room temperature butter. Don’t try to make it with dead-cold butter. Friends, just cut the butter up, step back, and really let it come up to temp. Then, cream the butter with the sugar until it’s light and fluffy, scraping the bowl frequently. Add your eggs one at a time (yes, it really matters), and let it emulsify into a luscious base for your batter. For the same reasons, stream in the oil while the mixer is running. You want this butter/sugar/egg mix to be fluffy, silky, and cloud-like. And that’s how you do just that. Fold in the corn last, by hand, with a rubber spatula.

Now go out there and buy some Country Time, make some grease icing, and I don’t know, sell the rest at a salted-lemonade stand. We’re living in the golden age of the pop-up, after all. 

Sweet Corn Lemonade Cake

For the cake

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt 

1 stick unsalted butter, room temp

1 ¼ cups sugar

3 eggs

2 egg yolks

¼ cup canola oil

¾ cup whole milk

1 cup raw, fresh corn kernels

For the icing

2 cups powdered sugar

¾ cup Crisco

¼ cup unsalted butter, room temp

6 tablespoons Country Time Lemonade powder

1 teaspoon salt

Make the cake

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. 

  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the room temp butter and sugar until extremely fluffy. Scrape and beat again until homogenous. 

  3. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating to fully incorporate between each. With the mixer running on medium, stream in the oil. 

  4. In two additions, add the flour, then milk, then the remaining flour, mixing on low in between. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and mix again until homogenous.

  5. Remove from the stand mixer and fold the corn kernels in with a rubber spatula, as not to over mix. 

  6. Transfer the batter to a lined and greased 9-inch round cake pan. 

  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick comes clean from the center. 

  8. Cool in pan, remove to a serving plate. 

Make the icing

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the Crisco and the butter until fully combined and smooth. 

  2. Add the sugar, Country Time, and salt. Start on very low, to avoid a mess, and gradually up the speed as the dry ingredients are incorporated. Once mixed in, turn the mixer on high and beat for 10-15 minutes. You want this to be totally smooth and extremely light. If you are still feeling granules of Country Time at 15 minutes, let the icing rest at room temp until the mix is fully dissolved. 

  3. Casually spread the icing on the top of the corn cake. Decorate with flowers, citrus, sprinkles, whatever you want.

ICYMI If you’re a free signup reader to A Piece of Cake, here’s what the subscribers got last month:

Quick Bites:

  • I am so obsessed with Grand Opening, and cannot wait to have to chance to visit. And this week, I’m especially into this sponge cake with strawberry, verbena custard, and whipped vanilla. 

  • I love this in-depth exploration into the best way to get rid of corn silk from Ann Taylor Pittman over on TheKitchn.

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