Sweet, Tender and Studded With Strawberries

There’s something so homey about a warm dessert so tender you must serve it with a big spoon and a deep bowl. Depending on the occasion, there are a couple of recipes you could try.

One is spoonbread, the usually savory, sometimes sweet Southern dish. To make it, you’d stir fully- or par-cooked cornmeal into a custardy batter, then lighten it with whipped egg whites. You’d get something gritty and coarse, like cornbread, but still supple enough to scoop, like pudding. You should save this arguably more celebratory dessert for a holiday potluck.

Then there’s pudding cake, often made by pouring boiling-hot liquid over a batter right before pushing it into the oven, sometimes with a bain-marie steaming underneath. This would end in a miraculously fluffy cake on top and a silky, custard on the bottom. It’s the perfect weekend project.

But if it’s a Wednesday, and it’s just you all alone, or with a friend nearby, there’s this spoon cake. As formless as its cousins, it’s aptly named for the way it’s served: spooned to catch the crusted edges and barely set center in one serving. It’s less persnickety but just as satisfying.

The batter comes together quickly, only requiring a cup of flour, some melted butter, brown sugar, milk, baking powder and a little bit of salt. Once the basic ingredients are whisked together in a bowl, the batter is moved to a buttered dish. It will assume the shape of whatever dish you bake it in, with slight variations in cook time, of course. If you prefer attractive, smaller portions, the recipe works well divided across two, shallow 15-ounce ceramic dishes, square or round, it won’t matter.

The surface is then covered in freshly muddled strawberries, which gives the batter its vibrant color and flavor, but creates enough liquid to keep the cake steaming as it bakes. The cake is wonderful when it’s served simply, like this, but it can also take on a warmer tone with a dusting of ginger or cardamom, or even veer slightly savory with the addition of ribboned basil and a drizzle of balsamic syrup.

Like spoonbread, it’s meant to be served hot, and also like spoonbread, it’s meant to sit nestled beside something else. In this case, it must always be a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. Once the warm cake and creamy ice cream are jumbled together, your weeknight is made.

Recipe: Strawberry Spoon Cake

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