Friday, March 12, 2010

the season of citrus - blood orange polenta upside down cake!

 When one moves to Southern California, one must get used to many things - near perfect weather, the unrealistic prevalence of blond hair and an outrageous amount of citrus for the better part of the year. At first there is a giddy sense of excitement when this abundance presents itself, but as trees bare their weight in fruit and more and more of it carpets the ground, you can really start to scratch your head and wonder what the heck else can I do with this stuff?!?!

Now, as if they heard the call, Bon Appetit included a gorgeous dessert in its latest issue that showcases citrus in a tempting and scrumptuously rustic way.  You take a little polenta, a little orange and some caramel and you've got yourself a date with citrus. Not only is this cake aesthetically gorgeous, it's also a delight to eat.

I actually made this cake twice to test whether one of its steps was actually necessary - the whipping and subsequent folding in of the egg whites into the cake batter (really, if this step was not a must, I was definitely going to omit it)...well, it turns out it is definitely a good idea to include this step. The first cake, which included the whipped egg whites was light and airy - somewhat surprising given that it has a bunch of cornmeal in it. The second cake was much denser and chewier. Lesson learned.

Though I think this cake is really at its finest with the blood oranges, I did try it with lemons and blueberries in one iteration and it was still very good. I found that the key was to very thinly slice the orange or lemon slices (using a mandolin seemed to work well) so that you don't get big mouthfuls of pith.

Lastly, the Bon Appetit recipe recommends whipped creme fresh as the accompaniment for this cake, and it is very good - but a brandy whipped cream or even just vanilla yogurt was also rather nice.


blood orange polenta upside down cake
adapted from Bon Appetit - March, 2009
 - 6 tablespoons sugar, divided, plus 3/4 cup sugar 
 - 3 tablespoons water
 - 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided 
 - 3 unpeeled small to medium blood oranges 
 - 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour 
 - 4 tablespoons polenta or coarse yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground) 
 - 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
 - 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt 
 - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
 - 2 large eggs, separated 
 - 6 tablespoons whole milk

  - Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.
  - Combine 6 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoons water in 10-inch diameter ovenproof skillet with 2 1/2-inch-high sides.
  - Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is golden amber (not dark amber), occasionally brushing down sides of skillet with wet pastry brush and swirling skillet, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and whisk 2 tablespoons butter into caramel. Set aside.
  - Cut the ends off the oranges. Using sharp knife or mandolin, cut oranges into 1/16- to 1/8-inch thick rounds. Remove and discard any seeds.
  - Arrange orange slices, overlapping slightly, in concentric circles atop caramel in bottom of skillet, leaving no gaps between slices (or else cake batter will come through - see picture of finished cake).
  - Beat together 3/4 cup sugar, remaining 6 tablespoons room-temperature butter, and vanilla in another medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  - Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beating batter just until incorporated.
  - Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/3 of egg whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions.
  - Drop batter by large spoonfuls atop orange slices in skillet, then spread evenly. Don't pour the batter into the pan because you will risk displacing the orange slices
  - Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
  - Cool cake in skillet 10 minutes. Run small knife around cake to loosen. Place platter atop skillet. Using oven mitts, hold platter and skillet firmly together and invert, allowing cake to settle onto platter.
  - Rearrange any orange slices that may have become dislodged. Cool cake completely at room temperature.

Serve with:
whipped creme fraiche ( beat together 1 container of creme fraiche - about 8oz and 2 1/2 Tbsp sugar until thick)
brandied whipped cream (beat together 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream and 2 Tbsp brandy until stiff peaks form)
vanilla yogurt (don't need to do anything!)

1 comment:

  1. Alelia,

    This was delicious, thanks for sharing...I had just happened to buy some blood oranges a couple days before your post! I kind of overheated the caramel and it came out a bit more like tablet, but still worked out great. I served it with some local vanilla ice cream, and that was also a delicious option...yum! --Rebecca