Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Orange and Rosemary Polenta Cake

It's officially mid-summer, if you go by the lunar calendar - yesterday was the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere. Once again we've had pretty unseasonal weather here - some really cold days with north winds, but yesterday was one of those warm days which make you think of summer cooking - lighter flavours and seasonal ingredients. I'm a bit hampered by the Chief Tester here, as he doesn't like much summer fruit, so there's no point baking it into anything I expect him to eat. The next best thing would be a cake to eat with some of the fruit from the garden, and it would make it really seasonal if it could include some of the herbs we have growing at the moment.

A long search online, using various ideas for herby cakes eventually turned up this Cornmeal Rosemary Cake with Orange Glaze from the blog Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Punch. I didn't really want to put the glaze on top, if I was going to use it as a dessert cake, but otherwise it fitted the bill perfectly - basic ingredients and flavours that the CT would eat, and it used a herb which I had growing in abundance. I've never used rosemary in sweet baking but was willing to take a chance on it.

I did a quick conversion to metric weights, and followed the slightly unusual method for the cake exactly.

Ingredients: 200g plain flour; 100g polenta; 35g pine nuts (toasted and coarsely chopped); 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves; 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1/4 teaspoon salt; 165g cream cheese; 4 eggs; 270g sugar; 115g unsalted butter, melted.

For the syrup to brush over the cake I used the juice of one large orange and 2 tablespoons of sugar, and after heating, I left 3 small sprigs of rosemary infusing in the syrup while the cake cooked.

I left the cake in it's springform tin while I slowly poured the syrup over the top, as brushing seemed too tedious for the volume of syrup to apply. This was a bit of a mistake as it was then difficult to get the cake off the base, as the top was so sticky (the rosemary sprigs in the photo are an attempt to hide where the surface came away on my fingers). There didn't seem to be excess syrup seeping from the cake so I think putting the cake on a plate first (as advised) would have been better.

This recipe made quite a shallow cake, with a light, close texture. Even after adding the syrup to moisten the cake it was still quite light. I'm always surprised that using polenta doesn't affect the colour of cakes more. It was only 1/3 polenta and 2/3 flour, but I still expected a more yellow colour. I had chopped the rosemary really finely so the tiny specks of green don't show up as well in the photograph as the toasted pine nuts.

This is a really well flavoured cake, which I will certainly be making again - perhaps adding the orange glaze to make it a tea-time cake. The orange was the predominant flavour, with occasional bursts of the more pungent flavour of the rosemary coming through. The pine nuts added more to the texture than the flavour - perhaps a stronger flavoured nut would have been better, but pine nuts add to the overall Mediterranean feel to the cake and give a nice crunch.

After the event, I traced the original recipe through Fine Cooking, where I don't have a membership, so couldn't read the recipe, to Once Upon a Plate. Here I found out that the original Tom Douglas recipe used mascarpone cheese, rather than cream cheese - a possible improvement for the future. I was also slightly out in my conversion of the polenta and cream cheese, using a little less polenta and more cream cheese than specified - it didn't seem to affect things greatly.


Jude said...

Did you use instant polenta? I have a crumble cake I make which uses it and it usually comes out very yellow.

What did the CT think of it?

Suelle said...

Hi, Jude, yes - it was the instant polenta. Perhaps if I'd used all polenta it would have looked different. The CT hasn't tried it yet - he finished the last of the chocolate slices for his dessert yesterday. No choice tonight!

Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial said...

Suelle, that looks really good. I've never used polenta for sweet cakes before, thank you for the suggestion!

Choclette said...

Another fabulous cake Suelle. I haven't made a polenta cake for a long time. I used to make a standard sponge sandwich with 1/4 polenta and 3/4 flour and grated lemon zest then fill it with cream and strawberries - it was delicious. I like the slightly crunchy texture that the polenta gives. Before I started this blog, one of my standard 3 chocolate cakes I made was a polenta chocolate cake which was really good. Then of course there is Nigella's rhubarb polenta cake. I really must try these again - perhaps yours first though.

Suelle said...

Choclette - I used instant polenta for this cake and really didn't notice any grittiness or crunch, but I might not be particularly sensitive to texture nuances.

Update for Jude - the CT said it was OK. It wasn't chocolate, though! ;-)

Chef Dennis said...

what a lovely cake! I'm sure the syrup really added not only flavor but helped keep it moist!
thanks for sharing your efforts!

Suelle said...

Thanks for stopping by, Chef Dennis. The cake kept well for several days; I'm sure the extra syrup helped. I've visited your blog - what an interesting life you lead!

C said...

It looks really good - and sticky is usually a good thing too, as you say, it helps the cake to keep. I really like the idea of baking with herbs - I've tried lavender which was nice and ought to try some more. Summer always makes me want to bake with fruit more (I still want chocolate though!) - it must be very frustrating to have a CT who is averse to so many different things!

Suelle said...

C - the CT's fussiness is only a real problem when we are worring about our weight, and I then want to make something he will eat too, rather than one thing for him and something else for us. He's certainly easier to bake for in the winter though!

Emma @CakeMistress said...

I'm a polenta cake convert after trying it recently. Cornmeal gave it a sunny-yellow colour (although it had 300g and a LOT of butter) and a beautiful texture. It did require baking for 1hr 40 minutes with lots of butter to soften the cornmeal, but it was so wonderful. Can't wait to try with rosemary and orange, or perhaps rhubarb like Nigella's cake. Thanks for a great post!

Suelle said...

Hi Emma. Thanks for your comments - I'm sure a higher proportion of cornmeal would have made a difference to the colour.

My version of Nigella's Rhubarb cake is here:

It was a good flavour but I was disappointed that all the fruit sank. I've seen it on other blogs without the problem being mentioned, so it was probably just me!