Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blood Orange Polenta Upside-Down Cake

This recipe caught my eye as soon as I saw the photo in the March '10 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  It was one of those recipes that I immediately knew I would have to make. The oranges were just so striking, and polenta is one of my favorite things to eat.  What's not to like?

Make sure you slice the oranges as thin as possible.  I talked to my Bakeshop Production chef after I made it, and he suggested using a mandolin.  The flavor of the cake was amazing, but the peels were still a bit overwhelming on the palate.  I think if you cooked the slices with the simple syrup for even just a minute or two, rather than just laying them in the already cooked syrup, it might help candy the peels and take a bit more of the bitterness out.  That being said, here is the recipe:

Blood Orange Polenta Upside-Down Cake
From Bon Appetit, March 2010

7 tablespoons sugar, divided, plus 3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp, divided
3 unpeeled small to medium blood oranges
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons polenta or coarse yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons whole milk

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Combine 6 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoons water in a 10-inch diameter ovenproof skillet with an 8 inch diameter bottom and 2 1/2 inch sides *my trusty cast-iron skillet worked beautifully for this cake*.  Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves.  Increase heat and boil wihout 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.

I think I could have cooked my syrup a bit longer.  This is also where I probably would have added my orange slices. 
I'm thinking all this could have been done in a separate pan, and then laid in the cast iron skillet afterwards.

Cut off both rounded ends of each orange so that ends are even and flat.  Using sharp knife *or mandolin,* cut oranges into 1/16 to 1/8 inch rounds.  Remove and discard any seeds.  

Arrange orange slices, overlapping slightly, in concentric circles atop caramel in bottom of skillet.

I also would eliminate that center circle of oranges you see on top here.  
You really only want one total layer of oranges, with maybe a very slight overlap. 

Whisk flour, polenta, baking powder, and coarse kosher salt in medium bowl to blend.  Using electric mixer, beat 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 addtions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beating batter until just incorporated.

Clockwise from top: flour/polenta mixture, butter/sugar mixture, whites, yolks

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in a large bowl until soft peaks form.  Add remaining 1 tablespoons ugar and beat until stiff but not dry.  Fold 1/3 of egg whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in 2 additions.

  whipped whites and polenta cake batter

Drop batter by large spoonfuls atop orange slices in skillet, then spread evenly.

You don't want to pour the batter because you might disturb the arrangement of the orange slices.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  *I underbaked this by 5 minutes, and I think I could have taken it out even a few minutes earlier than that.  It would have been pretty dry had I left it in the full amount of time.  This could also just be my oven...*

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 completely at room temperature and serve with whipped creme fraiche (or whipped cream).

So ultimately, this recipe turned out pretty well, with some room for improvement.  I think if I made it again with these slight changes, it would turn out perfectly. 

This cake is a good one to have up your sleeve because it's stunningly beautiful, but not that hard to make.



Linda said...

It is stunningly beautiful. Can't have it up my sleeve though, as blood oranges are a little hard to come by in Mo-Town.

Kevin said...

GORGEOUS! Always room to improve, thats why we love to cook because it keeps us on our heels. Every time you repeat a recipe it gets better and better in till perfection. Well done!

Erik said...

Yes, the visual appeal is by far overwhelming, so I can imagine only how great it tasted!