I have issues with oranges. Don’t get me wrong, I love orange juice. And there is nothing quite like a really juicy orange in the thick of winter. But like, whoever thought that orange and chocolate was an ok combination? That person needs to be fired from coupling things. And I give all my orange-flavored mentos away. And orange-flavored baked goods….welllll, I just never really want to try them. I mean, I’ve added some orange zest to my cranberry bread and all that, but oranges have never been the star.
I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way. The first 2 comments on this cake after it was completed and sliced and served out were 1) “It’s edible,” and 2) “I’d eat it.” Not exactly the kind of glowing reviews that make you want to permanently promote the orange, right?
So maybe you’re like me, and you glanced at this recipe in passing in February’s Gourmet. You thought to yourself, meh, another weird citrus cake. No thanks. And maybe you’re still like me, when, weeks later you thought to yourself “No More! No more shall I neglect the orange. Whither is my orange polenta cake recipe?”
And then maybe, after you burned the first batch of caramel, of course, you casually stuck a finger in the batter and you were like, HELLOO, where have you been all my life?
And then, when the cake made its debut to lukewarm reviews you still believed and then all of a sudden your reviewers had changed their minds and realized the error in their ways and plates were lining up to get a glimpse of this cake. And that’s when you knew. This cake is the Real Deal. The polenta and almonds are nutty crumbly without being dry, the oranges are plump and caramel-y and the glaze is sweet and shiny. In fact, according the article accompanying the recipe in Gourmet, this cake IS a star…the “signature” cake of a bakery in London. Bravo, cake. Bra-vo.
Orange Polenta Cake
from Gourmet, February 2009 (ADAPTED FROM OTTOLENGHI: THE COOKBOOK)
Serves 6 to 8
For Caramel Orange Layer
1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 navel oranges
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange-flower water (yeah…I know. I used 1 tsp vanilla extract instead. I think it tasted faboosh)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups ground almonds (7 oz)
2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 tablespoon water
Make Caramel Orange Layer:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper and side with a strip of parchment.
Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber.
Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly.
Grate zest from oranges and reserve for cake. Cut remaining peel, including white pith, from both oranges with a paring knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove any seeds and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.
Beat butter with sugar using an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in orange-flower water and reserved zest.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer at low speed, mix almonds, polenta, and flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.
Spread batter evenly over oranges (preferably with an offset spatula). Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Invert cake onto a cake plate and discard parchment.
Heat marmalade with water in a small saucepan until melted. Strain through a sieve into a small bowl. Brush top of cake with some of glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cooks’ note: Cake, without glaze, can be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well, at room temperature. Glaze before serving.