Thursday, May 28, 2009

Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake

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This is the second recipe I’ve tried from Gina DePalma’s book “Dolce Italiano,” and so far (please don’t throw stones) I’m not enthralled with her recipes. I know that’s almost heretical to say, since she’s won awards and kudos from many people much more culinarily qualified than I, so I’ve concluded that I’m doing something wrong. Gina worked in the pastry kitchen at the Gramercy Tavern and was pastry chef of The Club Room before Mario Batali hired her at Babbo restaurant. She’s also this year’s winner of the prestigious James Beard  award for outstanding pastry chef. Unfortunately, she’s also struggling with ovarian cancer right now and I wish her nothing but the best.

I’m also hopeful about this cookbook, even though I’ve had less than stellar results so far. It’s loaded with recipes and photos that really speak to me since they are reminiscent of many of  the simpler desserts I’ve eaten in Italy and with my Italian friends here. That includes single-layer cakes like this one, rather than the multi-tiered layer cakes so commonly served in the U.S. (not that I don’t love them too). I still want to try many of her other recipes, including a luscious-looking mocha-cinnamon bonet and those darling chocolate-kisses cookies, but so far the first two desserts I’ve made have left me wondering what all the fuss is about.

The first recipe I made from this book was the ricotta pound cake, which has been rhapsodized by so many bloggers. On my first attempt at the recipe, the flavor was good, but the cake sank in the middle and had a slightly rubbery crumb. I figured I must have done something wrong – maybe I didn’t follow the recipe exactly or maybe I should have left it in the oven longer. So I baked it again, being meticulously exact in measuring the ingredients. I left the cake in the oven a bit longer to avoid what happened the first time and still, it cratered slightly in the middle and had a rubbery texture.

Yesterday I tried my hand at the citrus-glazed polenta cake. I used all the proper ingredients, including the fine polenta called for in the recipe. Before baking it, I searched the web for photos and comments by other bloggers who had made the recipe. So many of them showed photos of a cake with a sunken middle, similar to my pound cake experience. Several of them said it wasn’t cooked enough for the time given in the recipe.

I baked it according to directions, but at the end of the required 30 minutes, it looked nowhere near done. I knew if I pulled it from the oven, it wouldn’t be completely cooked and would sink in the middle, similar to those other bloggers’ reports. So I left it in another 10 or 15 minutes. By now it had attained a pale golden color and had risen properly. It looked perfect.

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I glazed the cake as directed and cut into it in the morning.

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I was underwhelmed. It looked pretty, it was cooked through, but it was dry. The flavor could have used a little sparkle too. Without the citrus glaze, it would have been really dull, even though I had used plenty of  zest from the citrus fruits.  If I were to make this again, I would soak the cake after it came out of the oven in a syrup made from water, sugar and citrus juices, or maybe some Limoncello. Or serve it with ice cream. Everything tastes better with ice cream.

If any of you reading this has ever made either of these desserts and has a clue on what I did wrong, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake
(torta di polenta con agrumi)
From Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen
Yields one 9" cake
1 1/2 cups flour, plus 1 T., plus more for dusting the pan
1 lemon
1 lime
1 orange
3/4 cup instant or fine polenta
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a 9" spring form pan. Grate the zest from the lemon, lime, and orange and set aside. Reserve the fruit for the glaze.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until they are pale yellow and have tripled in volume, about 3-4 minutes. Beat in the reserved citrus zests.
Add the flour mixture to the eggs in three additions, alternating with the oil and beginning and ending with the flour, beating just until each addition is incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake until the cake pulls away from the pan and springs back lightly when touched, about 25-30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove the sides to allow the cake to cool completely.
While the cake is cooling, make the glaze: squeeze 1 tablespoon of juice from each of the reserved fruits into a bowl. Gradually whisk in the confectioners' sugar until smooth. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake and allow it to set until it is completely dry.


  1. the only thing I can help you with is eating - I am not the biggest baker in the world but I have been trying- if its any consolation it does look good!

  2. Linda, I have had good and bad results from baking with Dolce Italiano, like many bloggers.
    I still love the book and recipes.
    The Venetian apple cake was very good, as was the zucchini cake, however, this cake was my favorite and your looks BEAUTIFUL!

  3. Sorry it wasn't totally perfect as far as taste, but it looks gorgeous!

  4. Looks great! I get around the sinking in the middle by cooking in a ring (donut) type tin. And if they put lemon in it I always tend to go overboard on the quantity. I love a citrus zing.

  5. Sorry they disappointed you. But they do look dang pretty ;)

  6. You know, I don't think you're doing anything wrong! I've gotten renouned cookbooks and totally failed witht heir recipes. I don't know what it is, but certainly award-winning chefs don't necessarily translate to great books. It looks pretty, though :)

  7. Wow Linda, the glaze look amazing. And the cake look really tempting Linda.

  8. I've heard similar reviews of that book, and that's why I haven't bought it. I did make her ricotta pound cake though and liked it. Your cake looks delicious at any rate!

  9. Oh I agree, soaked in limoncello would be fantastic! Sorry it didn't quite work out as hoped but you presented it beautifully!

  10. Linda, I'm sorry to hear you are not very happy with the two recipes you've made so far from Gina's book. I've actually made both of them and several others and have loved them all. I do agree that her baking times are slightly off and I tend to have to leave everything in the oven longer than called for. Also, I did make the cinnamon espresso gelato with the citrus cake and it made a difference. Oh and my ricotta cake always sinks in the middle too. I cover it with strawberries and you can't even tell :-)

  11. Linda ,

    Would you mind sending me a piece of your Citrus-Glazed Polenta Cake? (KIDDING) The cake looks delicious!! And, amazing photos. Thanks for sharing.


  12. I wonder if the ricotta cake sinks because the ricotta was too wet? Did you try drying it by letting it drip through a cheesecloth covered strainer overnight? Perhaps she uses a home made ricotta? Or maybe the eggs she uses are larger? It's a shame when a recipe doesn't translate well to the regular kitchen.

    This cake looks amazing! Perhaps it is supposed to be dry so it can be eaten by being dipped into a cup of espresso, like a biscotti? That's our cure for anything

    Hope you enjoy the next recipe you try for her book. Her diagnosis is a shame.

  13. Linda I've made the ricotta pound cake at least 10 times, I have to say we love it! BUT, you are right about the cooking time, I always have to cook it longer and I think it does have to do with draining the ricotta. If it's too wet it will take longer to cook. Sorry this cake didn't turn out for you, your presentation was beautiful!

  14. lol, ditto what doggybloggy said :) The cake/loaf we keep on making over and over is stacey snacks' date and walnut loaf. I'm addicted.

  15. Linda, Your photo of the cake is so beautiful that I was surprised it wasn't as good as it looks.

    I have had the same experience with other cookbooks, but I haven't tried this one.

    On the other hand, your rhubarb cakes looks yummy! Love the rhubarb.

  16. This cake is beautiful! For some reason I'm really drawn to the perfect, bulbous shape. Another one to bookmark :)

  17. Oh wait, I hadn't read properly that you were underwhelmed by the finished product. Hmm, so maybe not one to bookmark.

  18. I agree with you on this post, her recipes are good but often missing that YES factor. And this cake needs wine! I have a cake much like this on my blog, but the wine helps give it the depth it needs.

  19. I like the sound of a polenta cake!

  20. Linda, that's my kinda' cake....good for coffee, as a dessert or just a wedge for a snack.

  21. It looks and sounds marvelous although I'm sorry the reality of it wasn't quite up to snuff. Your ideas about soaking it in syrup and Limoncello may just be the thing. I'm curious about 'fine' polenta - I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

  22. I love this blog! There are many recipes I will try out.
    For a better Polenta cake, try this (my own recipe):

    Polenta cake

    1/2 cup butter
    3/4 cup sugar
    3 eggs
    Zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
    1 cup flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 cup coarse polenta
    3 Tablespoons Turbinado sugar

    Rub zest into sugar with fingertips to bring out flavor.
    Cream sugar with the butter, then add eggs, one at a time.
    Slowly stir in sifted flour and baking powder, then juice, then polenta.
    Pour into parchment paper-lined, greased and floured rectangular cake pan, spread out flat and douse generously with cane sugar.
    Bake at 350º F for about 50 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
    Un-mold and let steam off on wire rack.