Caitlin of Engineer Baker chose the Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake as this weeks TWD recipe. Essentially it is a tea cake containing honey, polenta, ricotta and dried Mission (in my case) figs baked in a tart shell. I love all of the above ingredients, so I was more than willing to try this recipe. In fact, a few weeks ago I was thumbing through Baking From My Home to Yours, and I secretly wished that someone would select this cake soon. Clearly Caitlin is a psychic fairy godmother of sorts.
As far as ingredients were concerned, I bought some beautiful organic cornmeal at whole foods. The scent of corn when I opened the bag was heavenly.
My dried Mission figs were purchased at Trader Joes, as was the ricotta. The figs were super moist, so there was no need to soak them. I did halve the figs though because I prefer to eat small bits of dried fruit over large ones. Also, I knew that if I halved them, I would get a nice distribution of figs throughout the cake. Finally, I had some Orange Blossom honey in the cupboard, so I decided to use that.
I found the recipe simple to follow. The only questionable section was whisking the ricotta and water until “very smooth.” My ricotta never did get all that smooth. I mixed it for 5 minutes on low, and decided that it was as smooth as it was going to get. I considered pushing the water/ricotta mixture through a chinois to make the ricotta particles smaller, but I thought that might be a great example of just how “Type A” I really am. My batter was extremely thin, but it baked beautifully. I didn’t have a 10 1/2” tart pan, so I used my 9” and I filled 4 little molds that I have with the rest of the batter.
Here are some pictures of the baking process.
First my thin, but beautiful, batter:
The tart pan and mini-cakes half full with the figs layed out:
The cakes right before they started to bake:
The orange blossom honey in the cake made my whole kitchen smell like orange blossoms while it was baking. It was amazing. I took my mini-cakes out of the oven at 35 minutes, but I left the 9” in for about 15 more minutes. I was surprised by how raw it was in the middle at 35 minutes of baking. The mini cakes ended up looking pretty cute.
The little layer of cake over the fig half got stuck to the inside of the molds, so the cakes ended up looking kind of like flowers with the exposed fig. The 9” was beautiful as well. It became a nice golden color after baking.
I plan on making this cake again. I think it will be a lovely addition to my arsenal of recipes under the subject “perfect winter dessert.” The cake itself was a little too sweet for my liking, but I know that my French Canadian relatives would love the level of sweetness. Maybe I should put it under the subject of “perfect for a person with sweet-tooth.”
Here's the recipe:
Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
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 panm, 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.