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