This is a dessert you'll not easily forget----chocolate, scented with
cinnamon and orange, moist, with a creamy center and studded with little
pockets of pure chocolate. They're practically molten when the cake is
served warm. That comforting quality corn has was meant to be paired with
the brazen lushness of chocolate.
Sweet polenta is nothing new in Italy's corn country. Honey, sugar and
grape syrup made polenta a special treat even in the times when families
lived on it day after day. The chocolate here is pure opulence, a wonderful
foil for the humble polenta. The cake brings together rich man's and poor
Cook to Cook: Coarse cornmeal makes a difference in the cake, so do seek
it out. Freshness and a minimum of processing are the two qualities most
important in a cornmeal. Be sure it smells appealing and has no acidic or
stale aroma. Mail-order Giusto's superb coarse-ground organic cornmeal.
Keeping a supply in the freezer means having some of the best cornmeal in the
country ready whenever you need it.
Wine Suggestion: A red Recioto della Valpolicella.
Makes 1 8-inch cake, serving 8 to 10
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup (4.25 ounces) coarsely ground cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) plus 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (such as Lindt Excellence, Valrhona Grand Cru,
- or Callebaut bittersweet)
- Shredded zest of 1/2 large orange
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- Generous 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Powered sugar for dusting
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon sugar
1. In a 2-quart saucepan bring the milk to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the
cornmeal, the 1/2 cup sugar, and the salt in a medium metal bowl. Whisk in
the hot milk until smooth.
2. Wash out the saucepan, fill it two-third full of water, and bring it to a
simmer. Cover the bowl with foil, set it over the water, and cook 40
minutes; the polenta will be thick and stiff. Stir three or four times as it
cooks and add water to the pan if necessary.
3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8-inch
springform pan. Finely chop three quarters of the chocolate and cut the rest
into generous 1-inch pieces.
4. When the polenta is cooked, remove the bowl (or pan) from the water.
Blend in the finely chopped chocolate, the orange zest, cinnamon, pepper,
yolks, and vanilla. Place 1 cup of this mixture in another bowl and stir the
cream into it. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Beat in the remaining
3 tablespoons sugar, then whip to soft peaks. Fold a quarter of the whites
into the non-cream chocolate-polenta mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the
rest, leaving a few white streaks. Fold in the chocolate chunks with one or
two strokes. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Using a spoon,
hollow out the center of the batter so the polenta-cream mixture will sit in
a pocket, and add the cream mixture. Cover with the rest of the batter.
Sift the cocoa over the top, then sprinkle with the sugar.
6. Bake 1 hour, or until a knife inserted at the edge of the pudding comes
out with moist crumbs on it, but when put into the center, come out with
creamy streaks. Cool on a rack 15 minutes.
7. Meanwhile, if desired, make the optional garnish by whipping the cream
with the sugar until just thickened. Release the sides of the pan and set
the cake on a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered
sugar. Spoon some of the optional cream beside each slice.