Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Fluted polenta and ricotta cake

A Tuesdays with Dorie event

First off, thanks to Caitlin of Engineer Baker for this selection. The recipe can be viewed on her blog.

While improvisation is anathema to bakers who for the most part rely on precision, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie is a product of Ms Greenspan's wholesale and impromptu rejigging of a magazine recipe. And the outcome is perfect.


The recipe has two uncommon ingredients for cakes. Ricotta, which is the whey by-product of Romano cheese making, and polenta, the Italian name for cornmeal. Ms Greenspan was incredibly astute to have added butter thus avoiding a dry cake which the combination of ricotta and polenta would presumably produce.


In the same intrepid spirit that produced this recipe, I made some improvisations of my own. Plumped and Limoncello-flambéed raisins were substituted for figs, which I adore but Patrick loathes. Moreover, while Ms Greenspan used melted butter, I opted to use the fat in its softened state and employ the two-stage mixing method. The result is a luxurious and thick batter:


Butter coats flour to prevent gluten from forming, thus helping create a tender cake. When melted, it distributes evenly but does not form the air pockets that softened butter makes when creamed. Baked goods using melted butter tend to be more dense. I wanted a lighter cake so I leaned toward using butter as a soft solid. The two-stage mixing method also aids this aim.


April 25th is the day that Patrick and I met and this was the cake we celebrated with. It is just right for the event: understated yet special, homey and warm through and through. It has all the symbolisms of a rich relationship, what with that sweet honey, the sultry golden crumb of polenta and the longevity that the wine-steeped dried grapes portend.

When I presented this to him, his immediate reaction was, "What, where's the chocolate?!"

One bite, and there were no more doubts.


Notes:

While I usually write down all that I've learned at the end of my posts, today I would like to take a personal turn to honour another person close to my heart.

Five years ago on April 27, I lost my only sibling to leukemia. She was seventeen.


What can I say... cancer's a bitch.

I wasn't a baker when she was around, although we did try to bake a few times and produced puck-hard chocolate chip cookies, which we relished anyway.

There is not one thing that I have baked and blogged about that I had not thought of sharing with her if she were still around.

Elisa, I miss you so much.

29 comments:

Sweet and Savory Eats said...

Julius, gorgeous cake. I enjoyed reading how you personalized the recipe to suit your needs. On a personal note, I am saddened to hear about your sister. Your tribute was lovely. I, too, lost a sibling to cancer when we were both in our late teens. Cancer bites the big one.

amanda. said...

I'm so sad to hear about your sister. She was beautiful! Hugs to you today.

Your cake is gorgeous, as usual. I learn so much from you every week.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I'm sorry to hear about your sister... Yes, cancer's a real bitch!!!

Your cake looks gorgeous! A delicious treat! Well done...

Cheers,

Rosa

Sarah said...

You are such a scientist and I learn a lot from your posts and this one is no exception!

I just participated in an American Cancer Society fundraiser over the weekend...hopefully others won't have to suffer the way you did in the future.

Mary Ann said...

Thanks for adding the personal note about your sister-she is lovely and i am sorry for your loss. Your cake looks delicious!

kim said...

i'm so sorry to hear about your loss, your sister was beautiful.

the cake looks delicious, and using raisins with Limoncello sounds like the perfect complement!

LyB said...

Your sister was very beautiful, so sad that she left you at such a young age. It's very sweet that you think of her whenever you bake, she'd certainly be proud of this cake, it looks delicious!

ostwestwind said...

Sorry to read about your sister, life is unfair!

But your cake looks great, and she is still around...

Ulrike from Küchenlatein

The Food Librarian said...

Your tribute made me cry. I'm sorry for your loss. Your sister would be so proud of your accomplishments and your happy life.

Beautiful cake. Congrats to you and Patrick!

Julie said...

The cake looks wonderful! It's a wonderful anniversary piece.

Your sister was gorgeous, and I'm glad you posted a tribute and photo of her. My youngest brother and I had some baking adventures, too, when we were young. I should bake and send him (maybe all my brothers) some cookies.

Madam Chow said...

As usual, Julius, I love your comments and thoughts on the dessert-of-the-week. Hope your exams went well, and I'm so sorry about your sister. I lost both my parents to cancer, and I think of them every day.

Cheryl said...

You must miss your sister so much. : (

Bumblebutton said...

Your loss is horrible, and will always be in your heart. But the anniversary of her passing is also near what is a celebration, and for that I'm sure your sister would be glad. Nice cake! I'm embarrased that I was so happy the recipe was 'simple' when you clearly took it to the next level!

lovesweetlove said...

You cake looks so pretty. I love all the pictures of the different steps.

I am so sorry to hear about your sister.

Anne said...

What a moving post, I don't normally get goosebumps when I cruise food blogs! I'm so sorry about your sister. I hope you enjoyed sharing your cake with Patrick, it looks wonderful, as was your description.

CB said...

Sorry about your sister... sniff.
Clara @ I♥food4thought

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

Nice cake with a good crumb. I am so sorry to hear about your sister. What a beautiful girl. It is very sad.

Shari said...

Thanks for sharing your tips about baking! I love the idea of Limoncello-flambéed raisins.

That was a great tribute to your sister. So sad.

Lynnylu said...

I love limoncello-good choice. You are quite a baker to be "occasional". So sorry about your sister.

Engineer Baker said...

I'm glad you liked my pick Julius, and your cake turned out beautifully!

rainbowbrown said...

Your cake is beautiful and well thought out. I admire your substitutions. Your post of food, love and loss pulled at my heart strings.

bakingwiththeboys said...

Your post, cake and tribute are fabulous. Thank you for sharing.

PheMom said...

Beautiful job on your cake! Thank you for sharing the tribute to your beautiful sister. I think this is one of the things that makes blogging so amazing, is having a community of like-minded people that give love and support when you need it. I'm so sorry for your loss and I'm sure your sister is watching you and is very proud.

Rebecca said...

Ah, my man asked where the chocolate was, too.

When I read everyone else's posts about boyfriends and husbands going back for more of this cake, I'm highly suspicious ...

Natalie said...

Oh, limoncello plumped raisins? *swoon*

I'm so sorry you lost your sister. She was beautiful.

Lori said...

What a beautiful girl. What a great loss to lose your sibling. I am so sorry. Leukemia runs in my husbands family. I worry about it for my children or my husband.

Your cake looks great. I love the pictures, very elegant.

Cecilia said...

Your cake looks gorgeous in the pictures. Thank you for the education on melted vs. softened butter; it was very much needed.

I'm sorry about your sister. Thank you for sharing such a personal note with all of us.

creampuff said...

Julius,

I know your sister is with you EVERY TIME you bake!

:o)

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful young lady, such a loss! It is good that you think of her so much with love in your heart.
Your cake, as usual looks great, I have the book, I must try the recipe because all I have tried so far have been very good.
Jeannette