I am still fiddling with this cake. The original recipe, from February's Gourmet, calls for a rich, orange-hued, textured cake that is baked in a bed of caramel and navel orange slices, and then inverted and topped with a shimmering of orange marmalade glaze before serving.
I followed the recipe verbatim the first go ‘round, except that I couldn’t find orange-blossom water and used a half-teaspoon of orange extract instead. That was a mistake, which resulted in a cloyingly orange cake. In fact, I felt the whole thing was too citrusey, and decided in my next attempt to restructure it around the delicious cake batter. The combination of polenta and almond meal is like an edgy version of Greek honey cake, and while I didn’t like it being baked in the caramel, which added a burnt, overwhelming richness that didn’t appeal to me (or the bed of orange slices—too reminiscent of pineapple upside-down cake, which has always disgusted me), I did like the addition of a dose of caramel.
Below is the recipe I’ve arrived at so far. I folded pine nuts into the batter, which are not imperative, eliminated the upside-down aspect and the marmalade glaze, and served it dripping with orange-infused caramel (based on Ina Garten’s recipe). Be careful to not over-bake the cake; it can easily dry out.
(Also, sorry I didn't remember the camera until everything was almost eaten. It is a lovely thing to behold when encased in caramel.)
Orange-Polenta Cake with Caramel Topping
7 oz butter, room temp (1-3/4 sticks)
1 cup sugar
2 t orange-blossom water
2 t grated orange zest
1/2 cup flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 cups almond meal (7 ounces
2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream, separated
1/2 t orange extract
1/4 t vanilla
pinch fleur de sel
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the orange-blossom water and zest.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture, the almond meal, and polenta and stir until just combined. Stir in the pine nuts by hand.
Pour into a 9-inch round cake pan that has been fitted with a round piece of parchment paper and buttered and dusted with polenta on the edges. Bake for 1 hour, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out almost clean. Cool.
To make the caramel, stir together sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Cover and cook until the sugar dissolves. Uncover and turn up the heat, cooking the mixture until it turns a dark amber color, about five minutes, watching very closely towards the end. Stand back and pour in 2/3 cups of the cream, the extracts and pinch of salt. Cook, gently stirring once the furious steaming subsides, until thick and smooth, about two minutes. Stir in the remaining cream, pour into a heat-proof container, and cool to room temperature.
Pour the caramel over the cooled cake, spreading evenly so that it drips decoratively down the edges. Serve immediately.