Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Host of The Splendid Table
produced by Minnesota Public Radio and Tom Voegeli Productions,
distributed by Public Radio International

Budino di Polenta e Cioccolata
From The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Copyright 1999 By Lynne Rossetto Kasper Permission by Scribner, New York

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 man's food.

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 Ingredients:

  • 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
Optional Garnish
  • 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.

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