Saturday, July 5, 2014

Chocolate Polenta Pudding Cake

Chocolate polenta pudding cake
A few years ago, a friend showed me his copy of Lynne Rossetto Kaspar’s book The Italian Country Table as a possible inspiration for some cooking. At the time, he lived in an apartment with a very small kitchen, so he came over one day to “borrow” my kitchen, just to make something. We made an entire meal from this cookbook, and later I went and got my own copy.

I forget which recipes we made other than chocolate polenta pudding cake, and this is the one that I’ve made many times since. I’ve been making it for my mother-in-law’s birthday for several years now, since it brings together many things she likes (including chocolate). It’s a bit of a bear of a recipe, since it starts with making sweet polenta, but the result is an incredible chocolate cake with a creamy interior.

Two types of batter
I’ve modified how I make it. Kaspar calls for making the polenta in a bowl over simmering water. (Worse, she calls for scalding the milk in a saucepan, then whisking it into the polenta, washing out the pot, and using it to cook the polenta.) I did it that way a few times. Now, I just pour the polenta into the milk and cook it until it is stiff.

I also double the amount of orange zest in the cake, since I felt that by her recipe the orange tended to get lost under the chocolate. I also tend to lean on that pepper mill.

This isn’t much of a cooking adventure, since I’ve actually become quite practiced at this dish. There are no surprises. I haven’t written up any cooking lately, so I thought I’d share this recipe.
Chocolate Polenta Pudding Cake
Adapted from The Italian Country Table, Lynne Rossetto Kaspar

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup (4.25 ounces) coarsely ground cornmeal
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Zest of one orange
Generous 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Bring the milk to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Combine the cornmeal, 1/2 cup of sugar, and the salt, then whisk into the milk. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, until the polenta is thick and stiff.

Finely chop 6 ounces of the chocolate, cutting the remainder into chunks (Kaspar calls for 1-inch chunks, mine are much smaller to provide little pockets of pure chocolate). Butter a 8-inch springform pan. Preheat the oven to 350°.

Let the polenta slightly cool (it should be hot enough to melt the chocolate, but no so hot as to cook the eggs), and mix in the finely chopped chocolate, the egg yolks, orange zest, cinnamon, pepper, and vanilla. Transfer 1 cup of this mixture to another bowl.

To the 1 cup of batter, add the 1/2 cup of cream. Stir to blend throroughly.
Beat the egg whites until they are frothy. Add the 3 tablespoons of sugar, then beat to soft peaks. Stir a quarter of the whites into the non-cream batter to lighten it, then fold in the remainder, leaving some white streaks. Fold in the chocolate chunks. Pour half the batter into the springform pan, creating a depression at the center. Pour the cream mixture into the depression, then cover with the rest of the main batter.

Bake 1 hour, or until a knife interested into the edge of the pudding comes out with moist crumbs on it, but when put into the center comes out with creamy streaks. Cool on a rack 15 minutes before removing the ring. I find it needs another 15 minutes before you can remove the bottom of the pan, since it’s initially too soft to flip.

Chocolate cake with a soft interior
Kaspar recommends serving this with a garnish of whipped cream. I use the other half cup (since the small containers of whipping cream are a cup, I have half a container left over). My garnish runs as follows:

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon Grand Marnier, or other orange liqueur

Whip the cream until thickened. Spoon onto the cake.

I should probably make this cake more often. It does take something of a lengthy kitchen commitment, but in this case, it's worth the effort.
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