Ottolenghi’s Orange Polenta Cake

Commissioned to provide dessert for dinner at friends’ and without time to go to the shops, I looked round the kitchen for inspiration. I couldn’t help noticing these oranges languishing in the fruitbowl – the good intentions we had when shopping just didn’t seem to have the same impact when grazing for snacks. So I had a flick through some of my less-used baking books for a new idea to use them up. I was quickly disheartened though as I was missing some key ‘exotic’ ingredients such as, er, cocoa powder. But really, I knew in the back of my mind what was going to happen. I was going to make a second attempt at this beauty.

It’s an ‘upside down’ cake, with a glossy layer of caramelised sugar and slices of orange, topped with a moist, crunchy cake layer, dense with ground almonds and polenta and scented with zest and orange blossom water.

From the moment I saw it in the fabulous Ottolenghi book, I knew I was going to give this a go. Fruit, almonds, polenta, caramel – all lovely things. I waited, at
first, because I just knew it would be just perfect for my Dad’s birthday – he loves oranges, it’s both his favourite fruit and colour. And he’s bloody hard to buy presents for and nothing says filial love like home baked goods, right? But I messed it up. I didn’t leave enough time for it to bake (actually I panicked and
turned it into individual orange upside down cupcakes which was actually pretty neat) and, worse, I lost my nerve at the caramelising stage. So my first attempt produced lovely, moist, orangey, syrupy cupcakes (which my dad loved) but inside I knew they just weren’t right. This time round, I steeled my nerves and waited for proper browning (and a little burning round the edges). I also cut the cake ingredients by a third as would have made a pretty massive quantity for four and I wanted it to cook in a slightly shorter time (hmm, theme here..?) I lined my trusty springform tin, as advised by the cautionary tale in the book about caramel/juices spilling in a new oven. I didn’t do it well enough – there was still some leakage. And I suspect I took it out a wee bit early as it felt a little delicate when turning it over (ok, it sort
of broke). I had the genius idea of making up some more caramel to pour onto the top to disguise the fact and make up for the stuff that spilled. Certainly no one complained, and I was pretty happy with the finished result. It still had a gorgeous texture, moist with crunch (the book said use quick-cook polenta but I like the grittiness), and full of juicy orange sweetness, deepened by caramelising, and disappeared pretty fast…

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