The New Convivialist

Month: January, 2013

A Winter’s Cake

blood orange polenta cake

I promise it is not the winter blues that have kept me from posting for the past couple weeks. Though I have a few visiting kitchen opportunities in the works, I will pause for a moment and share with you one of my personal favorite recipes, which I assure you remedies anything that may be going on outside. Wind chill, be gone!

With its heavy reliance on citrus, namely blood oranges, this cake recalls a Floridian grove or perhaps a Southern Italian Sunday afternoon much more than it does a snowy cityscape. But with an influx of imported citrus to Northern Europe during January and February, adding a bright note to your cooking seems to be a sensible, not to mention cheery, solution to the abundance.

This is a classic upside down cake. The first layer is a caramel, which is a poured into the bottom of a spring-form pan and left to harden, followed by a layer of tightly packed sliced blood oranges, and lastly the cake batter. The miraculous thing that happens is that the caramel and the orange layers fuse together during baking, and when the thing is removed from the oven and flipped, the sweet/sour medley drips down, infusing the entire cake. I also particularly like the crumbly nature of the cake itself. This is due to the uncooked polenta and ground almonds added to the batter. And if that’s not enough for you, the orange marmalade glaze adds the finishing touch in order to slightly counter-act the rich flavor of the caramel (and to make it look prettier).

The recipe is not my own. I found it a few years back in Gourmet magazine, which itself ‘borrowed’ it from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. Maybe it was a coincidence that this cake just popped into my head today, but I suppose I already had Israeli-born British chef Yotam Ottolenghi on my mind after reading a fascinating New Yorker feature on him during a long train ride last week. Nevertheless, I have followed trend and also slightly adapted the recipe, most notably switching out regular navel oranges for blood oranges. If you want, you can alternatively use a combination of blood and navel oranges to play with the colors of the finished cake, since there will be a subtle difference, even after baking.

Recipe: Blood Orange Polenta Upside Down Cake


Caramel Orange Layer

1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits

2 – 3 blood oranges, depending on size


1 3/4 sticks (about 200 grams) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup superfine granulated sugar

3 large eggs

zest from one orange

½ orange, juiced

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups ground almonds (7 oz)

2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta


1/4 cup orange marmalade

1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat oven to 350°F or 175°C with rack in middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper and side with a strip of parchment.

2. Make the caramel layer:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber. Keep a close eye on it so that it does not burn.

Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly.

3. Peel blood oranges including white pith with a paring knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove any seeds and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.

4. Make cake:

Beat butter with sugar using an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Zest orange and juice one half of it. Mix in orange juice and reserved zest.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer at low speed, mix almonds, polenta, and flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly over oranges (preferably with an offset spatula).

5. Place in oven and bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Invert cake onto a cake plate and discard parchment.

6. Glaze cake:

Heat marmalade with water in a small saucepan until melted. Strain through a sieve into a small bowl. Brush top of cake with some of glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.

recipe- blood orange polenta upside down cake









On the brink of feasting and cleansing

Nabe recipe

Every year when December rolls around, I know that the eating spree will commence. And as much as we (yes, we, since I imagine many can relate) try to avoid it, the food, the wine, the sweets, they are all there, and very impossible to resist. I suppose it is ingrained in our nature to do so. As the winter sets in, we should have completed our hunting and gathering, storing an extra layer for the desolate awaiting months. Perhaps it is just an attempt to rationalize holiday feasting, but I would prefer to think of myself as getting in touch with my Paleolithic ancestors than simply succumbing to saccharine indulgence.

Nevertheless, I was pleased to recently be invited by Mizuki and Miki for a Japanese dinner of ‘hot pot’ or Kimuchi Nabe. To be honest, I had expectations of a rather light meal. I mean, soup. The word smacks more of detox January than it does the excesses of the holidays. In principle, this is true. But at the end of the meal, I would have sworn I had just eaten an entire goose, red cabbage and potatoes. With gravy. And butter.

The savory and satisfying meal felt cleansing and refreshing, though, and perfect for a snowy December evening. The kimchi’s heat, added at the very end of the process, provided the kick and demonstrated the Japanese love of crossing of culinary cultures. Though most of us associate it with Korean food, the Japanese are equally wild about kimchi. I think its sourness perfectly compliments the umami of the hot pot’s other ingredients.

Nabe is a communal dish if there ever was one. Crucial to the enjoyment of the meal itself is in fact preparing it together with a group. Ideally, it would be cooked on a portable stove in the middle of the dining table, so that everyone can get in on the action. After each individual piece is carefully added with chopsticks to the broth, like ingredients are deliberately kept together in the pot. Why? According to Miki and Mizuki, simply because it looks nicer that way. Extreme? It may be, but then again, all the more reason to have the entire dinner party crowded around the pot at the table during the process. Once the nabe is finished cooking, it is divided bit by bit between the diners until it’s gone and there is only some broth left at the bottom of the pot. It’s a flexible meal; if the consensus of the group is “still hungry”, just set the pot and its concentrated broth back on the stove and add more ingredients. In our case, we added a package of udon noodles to the second batch. If there’s still some soup left at the very end, rice will do the job of soaking it up and certainly filling you up.

Recipe: Kimuchi Nabe / Japanese Hot Pot

Sprinkling of dashi (soup stock granules)

Boiling water in a large soup pot

2 packages (200 grams) shitake mushrooms

1 package (100 grams) enoki mushrooms

medium head of Chinese cabbage, chopped

bean sprouts

2 leeks, sliced diagonally (see photo)

1 package of tofu, cut into squares

prawns or shrimp

Japanese rice (vermicelli) noodles

2-3 tablespoons miso paste (or to taste)

soy sauce to taste

1 package kimchee

Japanese rice, enough for five people

1. Bring pot of water with sprinkling of dashi flakes and a spoonful of miso paste to a boil. Dashi derives its taste from bonito or dried fish, which creates a stock chock-full of umami, that elusive salty / sweet / savory flavor.

2. Steam the shitake mushrooms in a pot with water and a paper towel over the top to absorb the foam.

3. Meanwhile, chop cabbage, leeks and tofu. Soak the rice noodles in water according to the instructions on the package.

4. Once the shitake mushrooms are cooked, add to the broth one at a time with chopsticks. Then add the chopped leeks, cabbage, bean sprouts and enoki mushrooms, keeping each type in its own section in the pot.

5. Cook at a low boil for a few minutes and add the shrimp, tofu and some of the kimchi.

6. Continue to cook at the same temperature for a few more minutes and then add the rice noodles. Sample for taste. At this point, you will probably want to add some soy sauce and a couple more spoons of miso paste. Cook a bit further.

7. If desired, just before serving, add the remainder of the kimchi. Place the hot pot in the center of the table and serve into small bowls.

8. When there is only broth left at the bottom of the pot, put it back over heat and add more ingredients, as above. Udon noodles are a good solution here.