Friday, February 19, 2010

Arrivederci to Winter: Orange Polenta Cake with Sweet Citrus Glaze . . .

Citrus zest in a cake. Olive oil in a cake. Cornmeal in a cake. An accordion in a cake. Okay, maybe not that last one, but all the others? Yes. Today's the day for an orange polenta cake, drizzled with a sweet citrus glaze. Is it Italian? Oh, you betcha. Does the olive oil make it taste strange? Only in the mysteriously delicious sense of the word.

Though pyramids of vibrant winter oranges are still ubiquitous in every grocery store around here, that will soon change. Do you realize we'll set our clocks forward by an hour in just about two weeks? I can hardly believe it, but I welcome spring's approach with open arms. Winter's bloom has faded. Bring on spring. Bring it on, I say!

I'd been wondering lately if the crocuses might already be nudging the soil aside beneath the snow, on the south side of my house. I investigated that possibility this afternoon, and I'm pleased to report that, sure enough, they've made their debut. In Michigan, crocuses are quite the vernal harbinger. They're hopeful little messengers of warmth to come. To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite poems, one could say they're "looked for like mail." And I have been looking for them.

Now, about this cake . . .

The plan to whip up a bright, citrusy, polenta-and-olive-oil cake had been simmering on my mental back-burner for a while. Never having tried one before, I perused several recipe versions before settling on this one. It comes from the book Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, by pastry chef Gina de Palma (Babbo being Mario Batali's famous restaurant in NYC). A slightly simplified, but almost identical, version of the recipe in the book also appears here, in Babbo's website.

This particular cake's lack of heaviness appealed to me. Some of the polenta cake formulas that I'd read through contained not only a generous portion of olive oil, but also butter. One that sticks in my mind (probably because it would also have stuck in my arteries) contained almost four cups of finely ground almonds in the batter in addition to olive oil, almost a pound of butter, and five eggs. Yikes. Alright, if that's what you're in the mood for, but I had no desire to bake a cake with such heft. Cakes like that emit a resounding thunk when placed on the table. No thunking allowed. All thunking is currently prohibited.

My adapted version of the recipe includes no lemon or lime zest in the batter--just orange zest-- and only orange and lemon juice in the glaze. Aside from those small changes, I did a little rewording of the directions here and there.

I want to mention that I used Meyer lemon juice in the glaze. A cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange, the Meyer's color is luminous, like a lemon that's blushing. Its juice is distinctly different, too--sweeter, with perhaps more character. Meyer lemons seem to pop up briefly at this time of year, at least in this neck of the woods, and they're not expensive.

Orange Polenta Cake with Sweet Citrus Glaze

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

1 and 1/2 cups, plus 1 Tbsp., unbleached All Purpose flour
3 oranges
3/4 cup instant or fine polenta (I just used regular Quaker brand cornmeal)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly grease or spray a 9" springform pan. Dust the pan with flour.

Grate all the the zest from the oranges. Set the zest aside for the cake batter, and set the fruit aside to use in the glaze.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until they're pale yellow and have tripled in volume (about 3 to 4 minutes). Beat in the reserved orange zest.

Alternate adding in the dry ingredients and the olive oil to the egg mixture. Begin with one third of the dry ingredients, then add half the olive oil. Continue, ending with the dry ingredients. Beat each addition only until it's incorporated. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. The cake is done when it springs back when touched in the center, when the cakes pulls away from the sides of the pan, and when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Note from Jane -- My cake took at least 35 to 40 minutes to bake. I recommend you cover the top of your cake lightly with foil as soon as it gets golden on top, just in case you need to leave it in the oven much longer!)

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack, for 12 to 15 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of the pan. Let the cake finish cooling completely on a rack.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the glaze. Sift 2 cups of confectioners' sugar into a large bowl. Squeeze at least 2 Tbsp. of juice from the orange, and at least 1 Tbsp. of juice from the lemon into a small bowl. Make sure no seeds remain in the juice; strain it if necessary. Add the juices to the large bowl and mix into the sugar with a spoon or a whisk until completely smooth.

If the glaze is too thick, add more of the juices or a few drops of water. Too thin? Add in a bit more of the sugar.

Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and allow it to set until it's completely dry. (The sugariness is more subdued, and the citrus flavors are more at the forefront, when the glaze is dry.)

If you want to do so, carefully remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan and transfer it to a serving plate. Store any leftover cake well covered.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, just click on the purple COMMENTS below!)


Rambling Tart said...

Mmm, so lovely. :-) I've never had olive oil in cake, but I love it in EVERYTHING else, so why not? :-) Delish!

La Table De Nana said...

I look forward to making this and I just want to tell you that your photos are absolutely beautiful:)

Jess - Healthy Exposures said...

unique and beautiful - i think i'll definitely need to give this a try!

Marie said...

Ohhhh Jane, fabulous pictures of what looks to be a most delicious cake!!! Well done girl!! Well done!!

Chele said...

Wonderful photos. Your cake looks great and just the thing to help ward off the winter blues - I fear winter is to be with us in Scotland a bit longer yet judging by the thick frost this morning ;0(

Kate at Serendipity said...

What a gorgeous cake! And what stunning photos! this looks like just the thing to beckon springtime.

Thanks for posting this.

~~louise~~ said...

Although I have seen olive oil in cake recipes before, I totally agree, they usually have so much other "stuff" that seems to distract from the essence of the oil. Looks like you've chosen a real winner, Jane. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any Meyers this year but the oranges this year are excellent!

No sign of crocus by me yet but I must report, I was delighted to uncover the tiniest flower on one of my scented geranium plants yesterday when I was watering. Spring isa comin'

Jane said...

Hi R. Tart, I know just what you mean. I figured, how bad can olive oil in a cake be?? Turns out, not bad at all!

Hello Nana,
You have no idea how much I appreciate hearing that about the photos! I love having beautiful fruit/veggies to photograph, don't you?

Hi Jess,
Many thanks! I'd love to know how you like it, too, if you decide to try it!

Hi Marie--
Thanks very much! The cake has been calling out to me all afternoon . . . I must resist, for a while at least!

Hello there Chele,
Well, I hope spring doesn't take too long to arrive there! I wish we could hurry spring into existence. Thanks very much!

Hi Kate,
Thank you so much for that comment re the pictures! I had fun photographing this post. The light was good, for the most part, and the colors were so nice to work with.

Hi Louise--

Yeah, sometimes it's hard to refrain from cramming too many flavors into food, but this time I really wanted to be able to taste and smell the oranges. The Meyer lemons were so charming, though, I had to find a way to use those too! My goodness--a flower on your scented geraniums already! I would love to see that kind of thing here. What state are you in??

Warmly to all,

~~louise~~ said...

Wait no longer sweet Jane. I just added a picture of my blooming scented geranium on my latest post; Farewell To Pancake Week:)

CAHİDE said...

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arugulove said...

I wish I had seen this earlier. I made a citrus polenta olive oil cake yesterday that was a hot mess. This one looks so much better than mine!

CherylK said...

This is the prettiest food post I've seen in a long time. Your photography is gorgeous and the recipe looks absolutely divine! I plan to make this cake as soon as I'm back home in Minnesota! (I'm leaving here on Friday) Looking forward to reading more of your baking journal!

Hanaâ said...

That looks delicious, Jane. I love the coarse texture of cornmeal in cake. And I also love that you make this with olive oil. Will have to try this one, as well as a Lemon Olive Oil Cake my fellow SMS baker, Sarah of BlueRidgeBaker made a while back.

Allison said...

I've noticed polenta cakes popping up here and there on blogs lately and each time I see it only peaks my interest even more to try making one. It looks like such a lovely every-day cake, one that I wish I had waiting for me to take a slice from when I get home tonight.

Tempting Tangles said...

I can scarcely keep my fingers from clicking on your link. Even your grated orange peel - or rather what is left of the white - is artistic. I don't know if I come here to drool over the recipes or to savor the jewel tones of your photos. Wonderful, wonderful.

Deb in Idaho at Tempting Tangles

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi said...

Hello, Jane! I stumbled upon your blog whilst I was searching for lemon polenta cake recipe! What a happy discovery! Your blog is a gem! Wonderful styling and photography! Lovin' it! Engrossing writing, too! Enjoy every bit of it!

Definitely will be back for more. Keep it up, K?

Warmest regards from Malaysia.

ARC said...

Bless you for posting this! I can actually try it and give some to my dairy-allergic baby. Thank you!

Also, I love your description of a Meyer lemon :)

TexasGal said...

I made this cake immediately and brought it to friends for dessert.

Surprisingly light in flavor--kind of like a "dessert cornbread"!! Not too sweet or gooey like most cakes. I would like to try it toasted!

My results were identical to the pictures and the instructions were perfect.

Jane said...

Dear Texas Gal,
Thanks a million for letting me know that you made this cake and it came out so well! I love hearing things like that.
Keep on baking!
Jane :)

Eesti said...

This cake was absolutely delicious and so easy to make. The first time I made it was for an after-church dinner. It was a huge hit!!! Everyone wanted the recipe. Try it! You will love it, too.