I spend the vast majority of my time creating recipes. Thinking about ideas, how to make them work, what I want to cook, what I want to eat, how to share the idea. And people often ask me about my process. Sometimes ideas pop into my head fully formed, but more often, like this recipe, it’s by trial, error and a certain determination that there is a good idea somewhere in there. So here it goes.
Ionce saw a recipe for a “sausage cake” in a very old community cookbook, where the recipes where still in the handwriting of the contributors, and the idea of a savory breakfast cake intrigued me. That recipe, however, was horrible – dry and tasteless and tough. But the idea of a savory coffee cake, if you will, stuck with me. First, I thought sausage folded into a plain muffin batter in a cake form, but that idea fell flat. Boring. Adding an onion the next time around helped, but it was the cake that was the real problem. I fiddled with a lot of ideas to boost the flavor, from cornmeal to yogurt or sour cream, but those never hit the mark. When I had practically given up on the idea, mayonnaise hit me as a way to add tenderness and a little tang, like the chocolate cake made with mayonnaise that has an indefinable quality that sets it apart. So batter fixed. Cheese was the next obvious addition, and I started with cheddar. Good, but not interesting. I also needed to add a layer of complimentary flavor, and herbs were the obvious choice. I resisted sage at first, because sausage and sage are such a ubiquitous combination. But my forays into other herbs just weren’t right. I finally admitted that there is a reason sausage and sage are used together so often – they work. That led me back to the cheese. With the woody note of sage, cheddar was suddenly more interesting and complimentary. Done.
In this case, the process has been ongoing for several years, not a constant trial. It probably took ten trys before I hit the right recipe, and then made that several times to be sure. This idea of a savory breakfast cake just stuck with me, and I would return to it time and time again, making notes on my original notebook page. That’s where I start. I have a spiral notebook that I write recipes in, erasing, making notes, jotting ideas, instructions for changes next time. I also have a dedicated group of recipe testers – family and friends – as I get close to where I want to be, they sample and make suggestions (or just tell me it’s no good). When I hit the point where I like the result, and they like the result. I know I’m there.
Savory Sausage Breakfast Cake
This is best served shortly after baking, though it’s fine at room temperature. If you want quick prep for breakfast, cook the sausage and onions and toss with the sage and cheese the night before, cover and refrigerate. Add the egg, make the batter and bake in the morning.
1 pound ground sausage
½ cup chopped onion
1 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup milk
¼ cup mayonnaise
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8 by 8 inch baking dish.
Break the sausage into pieces and place in a skillet. Cook the sausage until it is beginning to brown and has rendered some of its fat, breaking it into small pieces as you cook. Add the onion and continue to cook until the sausage is browned and no longer pink in the middle and the onions are soft. Drain well and leave to cool slightly.
Place the cooled sausage and onion into a bowl and add the cheddar cheese and sage. Toss to combine. Add the lightly beaten egg and stir to mix everything together well.
In another bowl, stir the flour, baking powder and baking soda together with a fork. Add the milk and mayonnaise and stir with the fork to combine. Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared pan and spread to cover the bottom. Spread the sausage and cheese mixture evenly over the batter in the pan, then spread the remaining batter over the top. Do the best you can, but it will not cover the top of the sausage mixture and that’s fine.
Bake the cake for 20 – 25 minutes until firm and golden. Serve warm.
Serves 8- 9