Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake and Listening to My Inner Voice

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.

Tuesdays with Dorie

Dear Dorie:

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.

23 responses to “Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake and Listening to My Inner Voice”

  1. Aww, I’m sorry you didn’t like it. I think you should try it again with cornmeal perhaps. This is a very delicious little cake, imo. Your pictures are pretty!

  2. Too bad this wasn’t your thing. I admit I had to cut way back on the sugar or I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much. Still, your cake looks very pretty!

  3. Bummer you had to write a Dear Dorie letter on this one but tis the life of a baker… you win some you lose some. Great job nonetheless!
    Clara @ I♥food4thought

  4. Thats a bummer. So sorry you did not like it. Its a lot of work to not enjoy it.

  5. It’s too bad it didn’t turn out well. It looks great in the pictures.

    from Occasional Baker

  6. Your misgivings are why I stayed away. You made a great try at it!

  7. Don’t feel bad. I think this cake definitely produced some mixed results.

  8. You have a great attitude – I don’t like all the recipes in the cookbook, either, but I always learn something, and I like more than I dislike!

  9. This cake made me nervous as well, got to trust your instincts! Next week will be better!

  10. Aw, I’m sorry you were so disappointed with it! I honestly didn’t expect to like it at all, so I was pleasantly surprised when I did. Hopefully next week will be better! I’m not sure if I’ll participate because my husband can’t stand peanut butter, and the last thing I need is an entire dessert sitting around waiting to be eaten, but we’ll see. ; )

  11. Ah well – you didn’t like it, but at least you took a stab at it, and it looks like it came out great. Just – like you said – not your thing. Better luck next time, huh?!

  12. oh no. i’m sure dorie won’t turn her back on you…next week’s recipe sounds out of this world!

  13. I love your post. Maybe because I related so well to your experience. Good writing, if not good baking.

  14. Hey, at least you tried! And it looks beautiful! I must admit, I liked it a lot better a couple days later, rather than the day I baked it. It seems to all mellow out and blend together.

  15. sorry you didnt have any luck with the cake. it looks great though.

  16. Great write-up! Sorry you had such a hard time with this one, but I appreciate your humor through it all.

  17. Very funny letter! It is hard to decide whether to listen to our instincts or listen to the author. Well, you tried something new and had fresh ricotta on hand for something else! Good for you for trying it!

  18. Oh no! I’m sorry that you didn’t like the cake. Great job for making it nonetheless; the cake looks yummy.

    Your note to Dorie is cute.

  19. I misread the recipe and used the paddle attachment too, but caught my mistake because the mixture wasn’t reacting as the recipe was written. Too bad that you weren’t impressed with the cake, but hopefully next week better!

  20. Testify! I think Dorie did us wrong with this one. My husband wouldn’t even taste it! Totally holding out for the Peanut Butter Torte.

  21. I’m with you on the recipe as written the first time thing, and your reaction too. I’m not ready to give up on it though because I couldn’t get enough of the batter. 🙂

  22. I bet the fresh ricotta hurt it, a bit. Too watery. Although I think you’re right, the Bob’s Red Mill was too coarse to absorb, but mine never looked too wet.

  23. sorry you had a rough time with this cake but i love your letter to Dorie! 🙂

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