Blood Orange and Olive Oil Polenta Upside Down Cake
Amelia Saltsman has brought us a stunningly beautiful and evocative book, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen. It takes us through the seasons as the name suggests but it also opens us up to a world of lesser-used or known ingredients and recipes such as carob molasses (that one was new to us), matboucha, which is like a tomato jam salsa, rye flour used in sweets and various matzah (her spelling) based products for sweet as well as savory dishes. Here she takes an upside down cake and incorporates the classic syrup-soaked cake approach into the mix with, as you can see, visual as well as a wonderfully textural result. The cake contains cornmeal giving it a nubbly texture. Pay heed to her recommendations as to type of cornmeal to use. Also check out her yeast-based Iraqi Funnel Cakes – super fun to make at home and perfect for Hanukkah.
Excerpted with permission from The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen, by Amelia Saltsman. Published by Sterling Epicure, 2015. Photos by Staci Valentine.
Syrup-soaked cakes, usually made with semolina and called tishpishti or namoura, are popular throughout the Middle East. With its stained-glass effect from the variegated colors of blood oranges, this upside-down cake, which gets its nubbly texture from sunny cornmeal, is drenched in a sophisticated ruby-red blood-orange syrup. Use fine-grind cornmeal or polenta; stone-ground meal doesn’t get tender enough in baking.
- 4 blood oranges
- ²⁄3 cup (145 g) packed light brown sugar
- 1 cup (125 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
- ²⁄3 cup (105 g) cornmeal (not stone-ground)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ²⁄3 cup (165 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
- ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- ½ packet (¹⁄8 ounce/3.5 g) unflavored gelatin
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons Cointreau
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Using a Microplane grater, grate zest from 2 of the blood oranges and reserve. Juice the 2 oranges and reserve. Cut both ends off of each of the remaining 2 oranges, then cut each orange crosswise into rounds ⅛ to 1/16 inch (3 to 2 mm) thick. Cut all but one of the slices in half and discard any center pith.
- Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over the bottom of a flameproof and ovenproof 10-inch (25-cm) skillet (a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is perfect) and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the orange juice. Heat skillet over medium-low heat until most of the sugar is bubbling. Remove from the heat.
- Starting at the outer edge of the pan, lay the halved orange slices in the melted sugar with the “scalloped” edge of each slice touching the edge of the pan. Fit as many orange slices as you can into the circle, pinching their corners as you set them into the hot sugar (use a knife point or tongs to adjust the fruit as needed). Some slices will have a “prettier” side; make sure those are placed face down in the sugar. Arrange the remaining halved orange slices in concentric circles toward the center, finishing with the reserved whole slice in the center.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the oil and granulated sugar on medium speed until thickened and golden. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until mixture is thick and creamy gold, 3 to 5 minutes total. Beat in the zest and 1 tablespoon of the juice. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three batches, beating after each addition just until blended.
- Pour batter evenly over the orange slices and gently smooth the top. Bake the cake until golden brown, the top springs back to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert a serving plate over the cake, invert the pan and plate together, and lift off the pan. If any fruit sticks to the pan, loosen it with a spatula and place it on the cake. While the cake is hot, use a fork or bamboo skewer to make holes in it without going all the way through.
- While the cake is baking, make the soaking syrup. Fill a medium bowl one-third full with ice and a little water and nestle a smaller bowl, preferably metal, in the ice bath. Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) of the remaining orange juice into a small pot, sprinkle the gelatin on top, and let soften for 5 minutes. Stir granulated sugar, Cointreau, and lemon juice into the remaining orange juice, then stir the mixture into the softened gelatin. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and stir to dissolve sugar and gelatin, about 1 minute. Do not allow to boil. Pour syrup into the waiting bowl and stir from time to time until it thickens to the consistency of maple syrup, about 15 minutes. Spoon or brush some of the syrup over the cake. Allow it to soak in, then spoon or brush on more. Repeat until you have used all the syrup.
- Allow the cake to cool completely before slicing, then cut into wedges with a serrated offset knife to serve.
Author’s KITCHEN NOTE:
To cut picture-perfect cake slices, use kitchen scissors to snip through the oranges first, then follow that line with your knife to cut the cake. I learned this trick from food stylist Karen Gillingham.