Thursday, July 10, 2008

Melting Pot

For the past six years, we have spent every 4th of July with some friends of ours in Round Rock.  They live very close to a big park there, and we can easily see the fireworks from their back yard.  The first time they hosted this party was just a couple weeks after they moved into their house.  Each year, they invite just about everyone they know, from all sorts of different activities that they are involved in.  This makes for a very eclectic group.  They usually provide the meats and some drinks, and everyone else brings side dishes and desserts--there are lots of interesting contributions.

We know these friends from our local Italian genealogy group.  Genealogy is one of Jamie's hobbies that he doesn't get to spend much time on since the girls were born.  As far as I know, I don't have any Italian ancestors, but the genealogists let me hang out and eat their food.  =)  I usually bring desserts to potlucks, and this one was no exception.  Since I decided to pass on the blueberry pie this week, I thought it might be nice to go back and try a TWD recipe that I missed due to lack of time.  A lot of the Italians usually make it to the 4th of July party, so I knew there would be lots of people who would appreciate Dorie's Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake.  

This cake was the selection of Caitlin over at Engineer Baker, back at the end of April.  It incorporates a number of interesting ingredients--cornmeal, ricotta, honey, figs and lemon.  Part of why I wanted to make this recipe is that I had about a cup of leftover ricotta in my fridge that I needed to use.  Ricotta that I made myself!  How cool is that?  Thank you to Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch for opening my eyes to the fact that ricotta is really easy to make.  Check out her post here if you'd like to try it yourself.

I got some pictures of my kitchen helpers on this one.  Brianna's favorite thing is to crack eggs.  So she banged them on the counter a bit to get things started, then I broke the eggs into a measuring cup so she could pour them into the mixer.  She also did a good job of adding sugar and melted butter.  And she really enjoyed putting the figs on top of the batter.  Gillian wanted to help, too.  =)  Both of the girls liked eating the plain figs--I was kind of surprised.  

And the final verdict?  More than three-quarters of the cake disappeared very quickly once the desserts were brought out.  I did get a piece, which I shared with Gillian (Brianna decided she didn't really like it).  For me, the cake was a little too sweet, even though I reduced the amount of sugar.  I'm not that big a fan of honey.  I liked the texture that the cornmeal gave the cake, though.  I'm not sure if I'll make this again (maybe with some changes), but I'm glad I gave it a try!

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission figs, stemmed
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/3 cup tepid water (I increased this to about 1/2 cup because my ricotta was rather dry)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup honey
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 10 ½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom (I used Pam for Baking) and put it on a baking sheet.

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 cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, 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.  (I accidentally added the eggs first, and then the butter.)  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. (Mine was a bit loose, but thickened after a minute or two.)

Pour about one third of the batter into the pan and scatter over the figs. Pour in the rest of the batter, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if necessary.

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 pan. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.


  1. How nice of the genealogists to share their food! :0) I love the pictures of the girls helping you out. I have my Kitchen Aid set up in the corner by the sink, too. Everyone is always angling for a place in that corner. Good for on trying the cake, I'm still not sure if I will ever try it out.

  2. Did the genealogists like it? It seems like a very Italian-style cake to me...though all I know about Italian desserts I have learned from cookbooks, as I don't have any Italian heritage either.

    Glad you and your helpers enjoyed making it! I still want to try it, it sounds like something I might like.

  3. Thanks for leaving a comment on my new blog! I made this cake back in May after we returned from 10 days in Italy. I used italian honey and frozen blueberries. It was good - not fantastic, but good. It was a great dessert after my homemade pizza.