Have I told you that I’m from North Carolina? I’m what they call “a Tarheel born, a Tarheel bred (..and when I die, I’m a Tarheel dead)!” And oh so proud of it. Not only do I think that The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the greatest school in this country, I also think that Chapel Hill is one of the greatest towns in the nation.
Now, if you know anything about schools, rivalries or college basketball, you also know that my love for UNC directly correlates with my disdain for Duke. With the universities (and towns) just being 8 miles apart, I really, really do not like anything Duke. Dark blue, Cameron Indoor Stadium and…Durham.
So you can understand that the recent love that Durham has been receiving from national publications has been a little much for me to bear. The New York Times is saying that Durham is one of the 41 places in the world to visit this year?! It’s on the list with such places as Iceland, Zanzibar and Turkey?! How can this be true?? And then an article last year tells me that Durham has become a foodie town?? Where is Chapel Hill in all of this?! In my ridiculously biased opinion, I think that Chapel Hill’s greatness must have just seeped into Durham. That’s gotta be it.
To ensure that this was the case, I went ahead and read that article about Durham’s “great” food. It turned out that the article had a recipe from a restaurant in Durham that sounded, well, delicious. So I tried it. I’m deeply saddened to say that it was nothing short of spectacular. This cake, made with cornmeal and pecans, and browned butter was just the perfect balance of light and nuttiness and rustic and unique. It had a simplicity to it that needed nothing to dress it up – though a dollop of freshly whipped cream put it over the top. It was, to my dismay, a yummy cake. The Durham-based restaurant that serves this deliciousness must be on the border of the two towns.
*A little FYI about this timely post: one of the two scheduled UNC/Duke men’s basketball games is on the 9th. Meaning, yep, tomorrow. I don’t feel like I need to say this, but I expect you to root for the true blue. You know, with a piece of this cake in hand.
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for pans
1/2 cup pecans, toasted over a medium low heat for about 5 minutes, until they smell fragrant
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Whipped Cream, for serving
In a small pan, melt the butter and let it heat until it browns and smells nutty (about 10 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Strain out the brown bits and set aside to cool.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt in a large bowl. In a food processor, pulse pecans, and both sugars until powdery. Don’t over mix, otherwise it will become pasty. Add to the flour mixture.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites and vanilla together, just to combine. Whisk this and the browned butter into the dry ingredients. Refrigerate batter overnight.
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Thickly butter the sides of a 9-inch round tart pan. Line the pan with parchment paper. Pour batter into pan and spread to make sure that it has covered all sides.
Bake until golden and a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool 10 to 15 minutes in pan, then turn out on a rack. Serve (warm, if you like – it’s delicious if you do) with whipped cream.