This Polenta cake is a sweet throw back to my short lived career as a pastry chef in an Italian restaurant. I was coerced into the job after the real pastry chef quit and left me with a book of recipes to replicate. All I can say is that I have lots of respect for pastry chefs. At that time, my baking qualifications were mainly centered around magic brownies and boxed Betty Crocker.
Thankfully, Italian desserts are less complicated than French ones. And, I'm pretty adept at following instructions. I did, however, mix up the various flours a few times (the bins weren't labeled) which made for some interesting interpretations. The most difficult part of the job was forcing myself not to taste everything all of the time. I came up and down off sugar highs like a yo-yo swinging around-the-world.
Biscotti batter tastes awfully good raw and so does cheesecake batter, tuille cookie batter, chocolate molten cake batter, homemade vanilla ice cream, and proseco sorbet. Oh yes, and rhubarb compote is pretty darn delicious too. We made a meyer lemon polenta cake with a rhubarb compote in the Spring. The original recipe is long gone and the restaurant closed years ago (too bad, it was well loved) but this is the closest approximation to what I remember.
Coarse stone ground polenta will give this cake a slightly crunchy crumb. If you want a finer crumb use cornmeal or finely ground polenta. It can be imbibed with syrup (lemon or orange) for extra moistness or left plain as in this recipe.
The rhubarb ribbon is an easy trick I picked up in France. It makes for pretty presentation and shows off rhubarb's delicate pink and green shiny layers. And then of course there's the obligatory blackberry kir royal. Well, why not? It looks pretty with the cake. (and tastes good too)
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
Marscapone or plain yogurt to top
5 stalks rhubarb, chopped
1/2" 3 Tablespoons sugar (or more depending on your taste, I like 'em tart)
1 basket blackberries
2 rhubarb stalks
Sugar for dusting
Cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 9-inch cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a parchment paper circle and butter the top of it. In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour with the cornmeal, baking powder and salt. If you're feeling really adventurous sift it all together. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar with a hand held mixer or standing mixer. I let the butter and sugar cream for at least 3 minutes until it has doubled in volume. Beat in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Beat in the dry ingredients in three installments on low speed alternating with buttermilk, until just blended but uniform in texture.
Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool. While the cake is warm, invert it onto the rack and peel off the paper.
Compote: Chop rhubarb into 1/2" pieces and place in a small pot. Sprinkle sugar over and cook on medium-low heat until rhubarb is cooked through but not totally mushy. About 5 minutes. There will be a lot of juice that makes a nice sauce for the cake. Mix in some blackberries after the compote has cooled.
Rhubarb Ribbons: Cut rhubarb stalks into 4 to 5-inch pieces. With a mandonline slice the rhubarb segments extra thin, about 1/8-inch thick. Place slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Generously sprinkle sugar over both sides of the slices. Bake in a low temperature oven of 200˚F until slices are stiff and glossy. They should not brown. About 20 minutes, but keep your eye on them.