Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Polenta Almond Cake

This is a cake I've been sort of thinking in the back of my mind I wanted to make for a very long time, but hadn't gotten around to it. It's sort of like the recipe I didn't make with those boiled and accidentally burned clementines, the smitten kitchen/Nigella/Orangette type of cake. Only it's also like this one of Jamie Oliver's which I almost requested from the lady who Axel F and I almost hired to made our wedding cake, before we decide that we don't need to have one.

In any case, I went on the hunt for a recipe again, because I wanted the kind made with almonds (because we had some in the pantry that needed to get used up), corn meal (i.e. polenta) (again because we had some that needed to get used up, and we only had a little bit), and olive oil (Dad had just picked us up a nice big bottle, so we could spare it). Thanks to the power of google, I found exactly what I was looking for, plus more! A version of the recipe which uses preserved lemons! Of which we happen to have a large jar in the fridge courtesy of our dear friends Elena and Matthew, whose house we all happened to be going to that night for dinner! The very coolest part about this is that the cake is gluten free by its very nature, and Matthew is a gluten free kind of guy most of the time! It seemed like fate that I should make this cake.

Preserved Lemon Almond Polenta Cake
adapted from a Boston Globe recipe from 2003 which uses a whole raw lemon!

one whole raw or preserved lemon
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cups blanched toasted whole almonds (almond skins are no good here, but toasting nuts is always good)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup either milk, evaporated milk, or a half/half mixture of milk and plain yogurt (option #3 is what I did)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup good quality whole milk ricotta (beaten with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract) for serving, some fresh berries are nice too, we had blueberries

Preheat your oven to 350. Grease a 9 inch cake pan* (my only 9 incher is my springform pan. I wrapped the bottom with foil to avoid leaks, and it worked great). You might want to line the bottom with parchment**.

If your lemon is raw, wash it thoroughly. You have two options from here -the Globe has you use it raw, or you could do like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson and boil it in plenty of water until soft, about 30 minutes. (You could definitely substitute an orange or a couple clementines, if you wanted. I'm going to have to test kitchen it with limes before I recommend that to anyone).

Raw, boiled or preserved, cut your lemon (or other citrus fruit) into smaller pieces, removing all the pits. If it's preserved, give it a gentle rinse to get rid of some of the salt.

In a small bowl, mix the cornmeal and baking powder, and if you're using a boiled or raw citrus, 1/2 tsp salt (skip this if you're using a preserved lemon, as it is plenty salty on its own).

In your food processor, grind up the almonds with 1 cup of the sugar, until it's coarse but fairly uniform. Add in the lemon pieces, and continue to puree until it's a smooth paste. taste it, and if it seems a little too tangy, add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar (to taste).

Add in the oil, milk (or milk/yogurt), eggs and almond extract and let it puree 1 to 2 minutes more, until very smooth. Add the cornmeal/baking powder mix and pulse to combine.

Pour the batter into the greased pan, and bake for 50-60 minutes depending on your oven, turning the pan once midway through baking to brown it evenly. Let it cool slightly in the pan, then turn it out onto a cooling rack to cool down completely (I just ran a knife around the outside and popped the springform pan sides off, and left it on the bottom to cool - worked fine and very easy).

I did the Boston Globe's recommended garnish - the sweetened ricotta (you can add vanilla, cinnamon, citrus zest, orange liqueur...) and I have to highly recommend that you spend a little extra and buy top shelf ricotta from Whole Foods or a specialty cheese shop - it's a totally different product - soft, smooth and creamy. Regular grocery store ricotta is a little too mealy/gritty to be really enjoyable in this situation. You could substitute lightly sweetened plain yogurt, or even mascarpone or sour cream thinned with a little orange juice! Or heck, you could top it with whipped cream, why not?

*To grease your pan, I can't recommend highly enough that you go buy yourself a bottle of Wilton Cake Release - it's oil and flour mixed in a shelf stable bottle, you use a pastry brush and squeeze out about a teaspoon of the stuff and paint it evenly all around the inside of the pan, the cake comes out perfectly, it has yet to fail me, even in a complicated Octopus cake mold, for use in which the Cake Release was originally purchased.

** you won't have to do that if you get the Cake Release. Seriously. Wilton paid me nothing to make this enthusiastic recommendation. It seemed like a gimmick product when you look at it in the cake decorating aisle in Michaels, but it really seriously works, and saves so much time and mess and annoyance (greasing, flouring, cutting parchment into circles, blech).

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