Cornmeal Cake with Dulce de Leche

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This cake starts as a basic cornbread, but then it’s given a sweet soaking in the milky caramel treat from Mexico called dulce de leche—a little alchemy that yields dessert gold. Accompany it with strongly brewed dark-roast coffee or with espresso to balance the sweetness. To save time, substitute purchased dulce de leche for the homemade version. If making your own, be sure to use whole milk or the sauce won’t be rich enough. 


For the dulce de leche: 

  • 4 cups whole milk  
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 cinnamon stick  
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract 
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt 
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 Tbs. water 
  • Unsalted butter for greasing 
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour  
  • 1 cup sugar  
  • 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal 
  • 2 tsp. baking powder 
  • 1 tsp. sea salt 
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 
  • 3 eggs 
  • 3/4 cup sour cream 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil 
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 


To make the dulce de leche, in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, cinnamon stick, vanilla and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda mixture. Whisk aggressively while the sauce froths up; it will soon settle down. Return the pan to the stovetop and, with the heat on its lowest setting, continue to cook, barely simmering, until the sauce reduces to about 1 cup and is deep brown, 1 to 2 hours. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Grease an 8-inch round cake pan with butter. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and grease the top of the paper with more butter.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, olive oil and vanilla. Slowly add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, stirring until just combined; do not overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a thin-bladed knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the cake and invert it onto a plate. Peel away the parchment paper, then reinvert the cake onto a serving plate.

Poke the cake all over with a skewer. Slowly and evenly pour about half of the warm dulce de leche over the top and allow it to penetrate for a few minutes. Cut the cake into wedges and serve. Pour the remaining sauce into a small pitcher and pass at the table. Serves 8 to 10.

Make ahead: The dulce de leche sauce will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator, for up to 1 month. Gently reheat it over low heat or in a microwave oven.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Good Food to Share, by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan (Weldon Owen, Inc., 2010).

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