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Tales of the Testers: The Road Not Recommended

Could a no-bake shortcut produce the same result as the fantastic original above? Read on. (Dominic Bracco II for The Washington Post)

Columnist David Hagedorn tacked a real winner on the end of his Real Entertaining menu on kebabs today: Berry Corn Bread Cake. It’s a recipe that has dreaded “steps”: Bake this, cook that, chill things, then assemble. . . in other words, the kind of process some cooks just can’t be bothered with.

In this case, those kinds of cooks would miss a delicious dessert, so we tried to accommodate them by testing the recipe using store-bought corn bread. Now, David had this recipe figured out pretty much right from the start, meaning he saw no reason to do anything other than bake your own corn bread layers. It makes sense; bake them in rounds and they’ll be the right size and shape for assembly. He was game for me to try it, though: “Sure, you could use the stuff from Whole Foods Market,” he said.

And I did, as you can see in the triptych that follows:

Store-bought corn bread is cut to fit....

...filled with fruit....

...and pieced together a la Frankenstein for a no-bake version of Berry Corn Bread Cake. (Patti Harburger)

I bought about 2 3/4 pounds of WFM’s finest and cut some of it into cubes to form the walls of the pudding. The other layers were a bit makeshift, however. WFM’s slabs o’ corn bread are 6- or 7-inch rectangles, so I had to cut them in half horizontally, then craft narrow strips and fit them in around the edges to fill the 9-inch springform pan. The layers on the top (in the third photo) are obviously pieced together, but they do get a glaze of hot jam that helps mask their Frankenstein condition. After the required weighting and chilling, the cake performed just fine at serving time.

Stripped of the baking/cooling of the corn bread, the recipe is simplified and does take less time. But I had to shell out more than $9 for the corn bread alone. Add that to the expense of 10 cups of fruit and possibly the jam or cassis (if you don’t have those already), and you may be pulled into the "hey, I can bake my own corn bread" camp. I found the WFM corn bread to be a little sweet for this application. David developed the recipe with a balance in mind, and I can’t say his balance remains intact done the no-bake way.

I’m not officially recommending the alternative approach, but it can work. David was right to leave things as is -- and he just loves to hear me say that.

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  May 20, 2009; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Tales of the Testers  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, David Hagedorn, recipe testing  
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