So soft, so moist, so delicious: Romanian polenta cake soaked with orange syrup.
This cake could be the end of a long quest – the quest after a cake made with cornmeal that I actually like. I have made several cornmeal/polenta cakes over the years, searching for the one, the one I would like, the one I imagined so many times when reading some recipes. And every one of them was so disappointing! Like really really disappointing, so disappointing that they were all either unceremoniously thrown away after trying one piece or were fed to my friend’s chickens.
When I decided to make a polenta series on Where is My Spoon I was determined to find the right cake as well. I tried and I tried but nothing to be done: I made three polenta cakes only for this series and I liked none of them. The first one was gritty and tasted nothing but sweet, the second one was gritty as well, the plums inside were nice and tasty but that was all. I used the rest of the cake to make a trifle, which I soaked with lots of juice and topped with lots of cream in an attempt to fight the grittiness.
On Friday I made another one. Because I didn’t want another gritty thing, I chose a recipe where the polenta was cooked before it was baked. So I cooked the polenta, mixed it with lots of nice things like raisins, dried currants and dried cherries, tasted the mixture and thought: “Yes!!!! It is great, it taste nice and it’s not gritty!” And then I baked the cake… The result: a heavy, overly sweet, bulky cake spiked with dried fruits. I ate one piece and the kids actually liked the cooked polenta cake more than I did, but for the rest of the day I felt a light nausea when thinking about that piece of cake. I would not take another bite, if you paid me to do it! It was so frustrating: here I was wanting to post a nice polenta cake on Saturday and having nothing to show after so much work…
So I had actually given up already. I thought I would post my polenta potatoes on Saturday and make another savory dish with polenta and cheese for next week. But then yesterday morning I thought I would give the matter one last chance – if it didn’t work (and I was really not positive about it) I would never try another polenta cake as long as I lived. I had this recipe scribbled in my recipe notebook, something I wrote down quite a while ago. I had never tried it because it seemed too simple, all the other recipes contained more exciting ingredients like fruits or dried fruits or whatever. This one was very plain in comparison. But then it was easy to make so I thought – one last try!
I feared the grittiness of the cake as well, I really don’t like biting on that half-cooked cornmeal, so I decided to take the recipe one step further and soak it with some leftover orange syrup I still had in the fridge after making my beloved Orange Tiramisu last weekend. I was really worried that I would ruin the cake by soaking it, but then I thought I could stand another gritty cake even less. So I did soak it and then impatiently waited for it to cool. I cut it for the photo session, took one first bite and EUREKA! I had found my polenta cake at last! It was exactly how I wanted it to be: soft – no trace of grittiness although the cornmeal was not cooked before, incredibly moist due to the syrup, tasting sweet and comforting and of orange. So good! You really have to try this polenta orange cake!
To make the cake I used a medium cornmeal with a short cooking time, the instructions on the package indicated 10 minutes cooking time. I think that choosing a cornmeal type that doesn’t need to be cooked for a long time helps against that annoying grittiness you might otherwise experience. For the same reason I chose a fine/ soft semolina kind. In Germany there are two sorts of semolina to be found: the coarse/hard one that I use for making dumplings for the soup and the fine/soft kind used for making semolina porridge, for instance. The original recipe uses full-fat Greek yogurt. As I made this cake kind of spontaneously, I didn’t have Greek yogurt in the house, so I used my usual creamy, plain yogurt with only 1,5 % fat. I found the cake to be perfect as it was, so I really could not say if it would be any better when made with full-fat Greek yogurt, the choice is yours. Also I did not need quite all the syrup, I used about 75 ml/ 2.5 oz/ 1/3 cup of it.
- 150 g/ 5.3 oz/ 1 cup medium cornmeal (look for a sort with a short cooking time – mine needed only 10 minutes)
- 50 g/ 1.8 oz/ ¼ cup fine (soft) semolina
- 2 regular teaspoons Dr. Oetker baking powder
- 1 regular tablespoon grated orange peel from an organic unwaxed orange, optional
- 3 eggs (medium Germany, large US)
- 125 g/ 4.4 oz/ ⅔ cups granulated sugar
- 2 sachets/ 2 regular tablespoons vanilla sugar
- 450 g/ 1 pound plain creamy yogurt (I had low-fat Greek style yogurt), divided
- 100 ml/ 3.4 fl.oz/ ½ cup minus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 50 ml/ 1.7 fl.oz/ scant ¼ cup milk
- icing sugar to dust
- 1 orange to decorate, optional
- For the orange syrup:
- the juice of 2-3 oranges, about 100 ml/ ½ cup fresh juice
- 50 g/ 1.7 oz/ ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius/ 340 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a casserole dish, 28x18 cm/ 11x7 inches.
- Mix the cornmeal, semolina, baking powder and grated orange peel (optional) in a bowl. Set aside.
- Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until stiff and set aside.
- In a larger bowl beat the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla sugar and 50 g/ 1.7 oz of the yogurt until pale and thick. Add the vegetable oil in a slow stream while beating all the time. Add the rest of the yogurt and beat for about 1 minute. Add the milk and mix shortly.
- Slowly add the cornmeal – semolina mixture mixing with a regular eggbeater/whisk this time. Fold in the egg whites carefully.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- In the meantime make the orange syrup. Juice the oranges until you have about 100 ml/ ½ cup juice. Sieve the juice into a small pot, add the sugar and the lemon juice. When it starts to boil, remove immediately, you should have a rather thin syrup. I only needed about 75 ml/ 2.5 oz/ ⅓ cup to soak the cake. Measure this quantity first, use it and take more only if you find it necessary, you might like to add a bit more around the edges, should they be drier than the rest of the cake.
- When the cake is baked, take it out of the oven and prick it all over with a toothpick. Pour the syrup all over the cake and let the cake cool completely in the dish. When cool, cut into squares, remove carefully and sprinkle with icing sugar. Decorate with orange wedges if you wish.
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