April 29, 2008

Unexpected Elegance

Sometimes, things have a way of surprising you. Such is the case with the latest installment of Tuesdays with Dorie. Caitlin of Engineer Baker tasked the group with baking Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake this week. I knew I would like the cake. I mean, I luuurve polenta and I rather enjoy figs, so I wasn't worried about not liking it.


What I didn't anticipate was how gorgeous this simple dessert can be. The bold yellow of the polenta served as a nice backdrop for the figs peppered throughout the batter. The edges of the cake browned ever so slightly, showcasing the decorative edge formed by the fluted pan.

I stayed pretty true to Dorie's recipe, using dried mission figs and plumping them in boiling water for a minute or so. It’s good to do this with any dried fruit when baking, as it keeps the fruit moist. The figs I used weren’t huge, but I did cut most of them in half for a more uniform distributiuon in the pan. Next time, I would consider cutting them into quarters, as my resident taster found the halves to be too overpowering.
Dorie writes that the butter you add on top in the step before baking will leave light circles when you take it out of the oven. Mine left little divots, almost like someone had repeatedly poked their thumb into the surface. It’s not terrible looking, just not quite what I expected. It actually gave the cake some rustic charm. I'd probably just leave the butter off the top next time, though, to save time. I don't imagine (though I'm no expert) that it would affect the end result all that much.

For a finished look, I dusted the cake with powdered sugar. Per Dorie's suggestion, I served it with fresh whipped cream lightly sweetened with honey.

Visually, this cake exudes an unexpected and understated elegance. I think it would be the perfect dessert for a barbecue on a summer's night or an afternoon tea party with girlfriends.

In the future, I think I'd like to experiment with cherries or strawberries instead of figs. Also, the other day in the store, lavender honey caught my eye. It got me thinking that a lavender and raspberry combination could be intriguing.
Check out more polenta cake action.


Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed
1 c. medium-grain polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 c. ricotta
1/3 c. tepid water
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. honey (if you’re a real honey lover, use a full-flavored honey such as chestnut, pine, or buckwheat)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10 ½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Check that the figs are, indeed, moist and plump. If they are the least bit hard, toss them into a small pan of boiling water and steep for a minute, then drain and pat dry. If the figs are large (bigger than a bite), snip them in half.

Whisk the polenta, flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the ricotta and water together on low speed until very smooth. With the mixer at medium speed, add the sugar, honey, and lemon zest and beat until light. Beat in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are fully incorporated. You’ll have a sleek, smooth, pourable batter.

Pour about one third of the batter into the pan and scatter over the figs. Pour in the rest of the batter, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if necessary, and dot the batter evenly with the chilled bits of butter.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be honey brown and pulling away just a little from the sides of the pan, and the butter will have left light-colored circles in the top. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.

23 comments:

Lori said...

I guess there were divets. Nevertheless it looks wonderful. I like the rosemary sprig laying on top. Its a nice touch and fitting too.

nipsum said...

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Mary Ann said...

Beautiful- it looks so good. It seems all of us who made this were pleasantly surprised!

Madam Chow said...

Beautiful job, and I love the photos. We really liked it, too.

PheMom said...

Oh, very pretty! Great job on your cake.

Marie said...

Your photos are fabulous. I am with you on the understated elegance of this cake. Wonderful job! I really liked this cake too, and by the way your cheesecake pops are adorable!

Jayne said...

Beautiful photos! I agree with you - the elegance, the rustic charm - I think that's what appeals to me most about the cake. Besides, you know, the flavor.

rebekka said...

Really, really lovely. Your presentation is especially elegant, I love the sprig of rosemary. I have to try this sometime!

kim said...

i love the rosemary sprig photo... perfect! the cake looks lovely and i'm glad you liked it. lavender and raspberry sounds good too!

Rebecca said...

Lavender honey and rosemary–yes, that could be really nice. Lovely cake!

LyB said...

Your cake is very beautiful and elegant! I think this cake lends itself well to experimenting, which is where the fun lies in baking!

Cheryl said...

Great job! The powdered sugar is a pretty touch.

steph- whisk/spoon said...

looks great! yeah, what was with that extra butter...i have no idea. lavender honey sounds wonderful!

CB said...

I really should read the "playing around" more b/c I missed the honey whipped cream and thyme suggestion. Bummer! Your picture looks lovely. Great job!
Clara @ I♥food4thought

Gretchen Noelle said...

Very beautiful job! Did you actually use the rosemary in the cake? I am so curious what people may have thought of it?

mimi said...

beautiful cake! it looks so golden with a lovely brown crust. lavendar honey sounds like a delish idea.

Sweet and Savory Eats said...

gretchen noelle, I rolled the figs in fresh minced rosemary. (And, totally forgot to mention this in my write-up.) It was very subtle, but definitely detectable. Not sure it made a significant difference in the cake, but it certainly didn't hurt the flavor any.

April said...

Your cake looks great!

annmartina said...

Your cake looks gorgeous. I may try this again someday with finer cornmeal and a tarter fruit. I don't think skipping the butter on top will affect the recipe much at all either.

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Your cake (and cake stand) look fabulous! Well done!

Anne said...

Your cake looks amazing! I love the photos and I'm glad you liked it.

Cecilia said...

Boy, that's a nice, big dollop of whipped cream; your cake looks so tasty!!

Try the lavender honey next time. As you know, I used it in my cake, and I couldn't taste it. However, it might be because I don't know what lavender tastes like.

Randi said...

OMG, I want this right now. Definitely going to make this by the end of the weekend. I wish I were committed enough for TWD...