Tip of the week: When you juice citrus fruit, put the juiced halves into a zipper bag in the freezer to keep for when you need zest.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think we got along very well this week. I will admit to being crabby. We’ve only had one day where the temperature has gotten into the 70s during the past six months. There was snow on the ground last Saturday when I woke up. Snow flurries are in the forecast for this weekend. So I’m likely to be slightly cranky when I’m on the receiving end of a little sass from some ingredients.
As I read the recipe for Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake, I had misgivings, much like you did when you read the recipe that inspired this cake. A little voice inside said “the polenta will be too crunchy, there’s too much sugar and honey.” I had more misgivings when I read comments from people who were already working on it. It’s way too sweet they said. I thought, can a dessert really be too sweet? Should I leave out some of the sugar? But I have this compulsion when I’m baking to make a recipe as written, at least the first time through. So I argued with myself. “This recipe sounds sophisticated, unique. Don’t be a chicken.” So I would make the recipe as written and the reality would be better than the written word.
I took it as a good sign that I actually had the size of tart pan called for in the recipe. My son picked an Italian deli for lunch that day and I was able to buy some lovely fresh ricotta. The figs I had bought were soft as pillows. This was going to be great.
I started having a sinking feeling when I couldn’t get the ricotta and water smoothly beaten like the recipe said it should be (Belatedly I realize I didn’t use the whisk attachment). It looked curdled. When I added the sugar and honey, the mixture became almost watery. But I persevered and finally had my cake ready to go into the oven.
Oh, it looked so pretty when it came out of the oven. As Alton Brown would say, “Golden brown and delicious” or GBD for short.
I could hardly wait for it to cool to room temperature so I could be proven wrong. I cut a slice, almost giddy with anticipation.
I took that first bite. And I heard that voice loud and clear, “I told you so.” The polenta was too crunchy, it was way too sweet. So sweet that it made the figs taste almost bitter. I tried it again the next day. But no luck. My son didn’t like it either. I didn’t bother offering any to my husband. This dessert just wasn’t our thing.
As a consolation, I had enough fresh ricotta left to make a ricotta and sausage pasta for dinner from the cookbook “On Top of Spaghetti.” And it was great!
So Dorie, I hope we’re still friends. I’m not so fickle as to give up. I will admit to not paying enough attention to use the whisk attachment. Maybe I should have used a finer cornmeal instead of the polenta. In retrospect, I think the size of the polenta grind didn’t allow for much absorption of moisture. Maybe commercial ricotta would have had a different texture. I am anxious to see how everyone else at Tuesday with Dorie fared. Maybe they can see where I went wrong.
P.S. See you next week for Peanut Butter Torte. Now that is our thing!
Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
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.