When Caitlin announced her choice for this week’s TWD recipe, a few of the group members said they were put off by the unusual mix of ingredients, especially for a dessert. But I was excited – I think it’s recipes like this where Dorie’s book really shines. She has a lot of interesting and creative recipes that I’m excited to make. This cake in particular is worth making for no other reason than to find out what a ricotta polenta cake tastes like.
A few bakers who made their cake early in the week thought it was too sweet, so I reduced the sugar by 33%. There were also a lot of questions about the possibility of substituting a different fruit for the figs that the recipe called for. I was halving the recipe and baking it in tartlet pans, so I used a different fruit (figs, dates, dried cherries, and fresh strawberries) for each pan.
To me, ricotta polenta cake tastes like sweet cornbread. I wish I hadn’t reduced the sugar because I think the extra sugar would have made it seem more like a dessert. Dave and I both liked the strawberry cake the best, although it was a little too moist and delicate since strawberries are so much more wet than dried fruit. I also really enjoyed the dried cherries. The figs were okay too, but I didn’t think the dates contributed much flavor. I would have liked more fruit in the cakes as well.
I have to admit that this wasn’t my favorite dessert, but it was certainly an interesting recipe to try.
Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my Home to Yours)
About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed
1 cup medium-grain polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup tepid water
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup 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
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 tablespoon, cut into bits and chilled
Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10½-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.