Polenta Pound Cake With Spiced Mandarins

Polenta Pound Cake With Spiced Mandarins
This polenta pound cake is spiked with orange zest and liqueur, and served with saucy spoonfuls of spiced mandarins. (Ethan Calabrese)

If you wanted to, you could plate this in individual servings elegant enough for the nicest restaurant in town, but you absolutely do not have to.

Makes 8 to 10 Servings

For the Polenta Pound Cake
  • Pan Goo, for greasing the pan (recipe follows)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup quick-cooking (but not instant) polenta, divided
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from 1 orange)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Spiced Mandarins
  • 5 large mandarin oranges
  • 4 teaspoons finely grated orange zest, preferably Valencia (from 2 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, preferably Valencia (from 2 oranges)
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the center position. Brush a standard 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with Pan Goo.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and 2 tablespoons of polenta. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water and the orange liqueur to a boil over medium heat. Sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup polenta while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, letting the polenta fall at such a rate that you can see the individual granules as they tumble through the air. Return the mixture to a boil and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until you can see the bottom of the pan in the wake of the spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the butter a few pieces at a time, until all of it has melted. The mixture will be very greasy. Whisk in the sugar, which will cool down the mixture so the eggs don’t scramble. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, followed by the zest and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture with the wooden spoon, then transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Tap the pan on the counter a few times to dislodge any large bubbles.

Bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back when gently pressed and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 75 minutes, tenting with foil after an hour if the top is darkening too quickly.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack. Allow the cake to rest in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes, then carefully unmold it onto the rack to cool completely.

While the cake is in the oven, make the spiced mandarins: Peel the oranges and separate the segments, removing every last bit of pith you can stand to. Place in a medium bowl and add the orange zest and juice, orange liqueur, cloves, star anise, and vanilla seeds and pod. Let the flavors meld together for at least 1 hour. (The spiced mandarins can be made the day before and refrigerated.)

Serve slices of the pound cake with the mandarins and their juice.

Storage: The moisture from the polenta keeps this cake fresh, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Pan Goo

Makes about 3/4 cup
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as safflower
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
In a small container with a lid, whisk the oil and flour together until combined. Brush onto baking pans in place of parchment paper or cooking spray.
Storage: Keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks. A month seems like maybe too long.
Recipe from “Fruit Cake” by Jason Schreiber. Copyright 2020 by Jason Schreiber. Used with permission from William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. All rights reserved.
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