Fluted Polenta Ricotta Cake

This week’s recipe selection comes to us from Caitlin over at Engineer Baker. I have to be completely honest – at first glance, this recipe didn’t seem all that appealing to me, but my mom and grandma thought it sounded fantastic, so I decided to make it and give it to them to enjoy. As I was putting the cake together, it smelled absolutely fabulous! Definitely a distinct Mediterranean aroma, and as it baked the smell only got better.

More about the cake and the recipe after the break…

I only had a 9.5″ tart pan (the recipe called for a 10.5″ pan) so I did not use all of the batter, but it still puffed a bit above the rim, but I didn’t have any overflow. The only problem I seemed to have was the little pats of butter. I know other people experienced the same issue, but my thoroughly chilled little pieces of butter only caused little white indentions, not golden brown circles, as Dorie said they would.

While you may be put off by the name of this cake (or the individual ingredients), give it a shot – it really is a fabulously simple and elegant cake!

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
(Source: Dorie Greenspan “Baking: From My Home to Yours” pages 200-2001)

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed
1 cup medium-grain polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup tepid water
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup honey
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 tablespoon, cut into bits and chilled
2 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.