Zoe Nathan's Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake
December 03, 2008
I don't think I ever thanked you all for your myriad suggestions on what to do with the mountain of ricotta spilling from my fridge. My goodness! There were so many great ideas. If it were up to me, I'd do nothing but test my way through that list. But I have a blog to uphold! A mission statement! And a waistline! Ultimately, a recipe was waiting just under my nose, in the LA Times' Culinary SOS column. A towering cranberry-orange-cornmeal cake that used Two Whole Cups of Ricotta. Why, I'd get rid of it all and then some! Sold.
(And suddenly, just like that, my desire to bake an apple pie for Thanksgiving was gone. Poof! Rather odd, really. I sort of thought pie baking urges were quite unshakeable. Shows you how much I know.)
This cake is a monster. Seriously, get the biggest bowl you have to mix it in. There is so much batter it will possibly swallow you whole. Of course, it's entirely worth it. First of all, cranberries and orange - yes, please. Secondly, cranberries, orange and cornmeal - um, I said yes PLEASE. Thirdly, all of that, plus ricotta? Good grief, give me the mixer already.
I used less ricotta than called for, less sugar, and less salt. The first two because it's all I had, the last because 2 1/4 teaspoons of salt just seemed excessive. The batter gets quite thick: this is actually one of those times when I wish I had a stand mixer. But my edits don't seem to have harmed this cake at all: in fact, I found it perfect.
You mix half of the fresh cranberries directly into that thick, rich batter, then spoon it into a baking pan (a 9-inch spring form was the best size, I found) and top it with the remaining cranberries and a flurry of granulated sugar. In the oven, the cake rises impressively and gets beautifully burnished, that top layer of sugar turning crunchy and irresistible in the heat. Cooled and turned out of its pan, the cake is simply gorgeous. Sweet and tart, moist and nicely textured from both the relative coarseness of the cornmeal and the fluff of the ricotta - it was a total hit. Ben's sister asked me for the recipe about five times.
We ate it with slightly sweetened whipped cream after our Thanksgiving meal and for breakfast every day after that, oh, and for tea and as a pre-dinner snack and, well, let's just say that a cake this size, even with 8 hungry people in the house, lasts longer than you'd expect.
Cranberry Orange Cornmeal Cake
2 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided (I used 1 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided)
2 1/4 teaspoons salt (I used only 1 teaspoon)
Zest of 1 orange
2 cups ricotta cheese (I used 1 and 1/2 cups)
2 1/2 cups cranberries, divided
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round by 3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, oil and vanilla. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, cream together the butter, 1 cup sugar, salt and zest. Mix just until thoroughly combined; do not overmix.
4. With the mixer running, slowly incorporate the egg mixture into the butter just until combined.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add one-half of the flour mixture to the batter and quickly mix for 5 seconds. Turn off the mixer and add the rest of the flour, the ricotta and one-half of the cranberries. Mix the remaining ingredients into the batter over low speed just until combined, being careful not to overmix.
6. Gently pour the batter into the cake pan and smooth the top. Scatter the remaining cranberries over the top of the cake, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar.
7. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Place a loose piece of foil over the top of the cake if it starts to darken. Cool the cake on a wire rack before removing it from the pan.