I have never entered a recipe contest in my life, but when I saw that Neff would be giving away an oven I have had my eye on for awhile, I thought I'd try. The oven is a dream, with a door that slides down inside the oven so it's not in the way, a low temperature setting for long slow roasting, special settings for bread and pizza, as well as an option for turning it into a steam oven! So I am entering one of my favorite desserts (and one that always gets raves from my students), the Verona Almond and Polenta Cake. With almonds, polenta, lots of butter, flour, and a single egg, the mixture ends up much like dough a cookie dough, which is then dropped by little handfuls onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. When served, the entire "cake" is brought to the table and guests simply break off a piece for pleasant feasting. If anyone wants to enter the Neff contest, visit neff-electromenager.com. Recipes must be sent by December 31. The oven of course is 220 and the site is in French. I'll let you all know if I win!
Almond Polenta Cake
It means a lot to say that this will be one of the most delicious tastes and textures you will put in your mouth in a lifetime. I first sampled this sandy cookie/cake/snack/dessert in a lovely Italian country restaurant near Verona – Osteria Valpollicella – one Saturday in March. This cake came as a surprising close to a splendidly modern lunch that included a pristine white ball of homemade cheese set atop the region’s spicy mostarda; paper-thin slices of home-cured beef; a stunning risotto laced with wild herbs and greens from the mountains; and a slab of local cheese teamed up with a mound of wilted wild greens and a crisp slice of grilled bacon. The recipe for this local specialty comes from Rosetta Gasparini, a fine cook who is part of the kitchen team at Villa Giona, owned by the Allegrini wine family. If you go into the town of Mantua, you will hardly find a shop window that does not display this buttery, crumbly, irresistible cake. Traditionally, it is sampled with sweet local wines such as Recioto. Sbrisolona is a rustic dessert, baked as a slab on a baking sheet and set on the table as one whole piece. Guests break off an end and enjoy with a sip of sweet wine. I use salted butter for this cake, for I find it brightens the flavors.
Equipment: A food processor; a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
8 ounces (250 g) whole unblanched almonds, reserving 10 almonds for garnish
2 1/4 cups (315 g) whole wheat pastry flour
7/8 cup (105 g) quick-cooking polenta
2 sticks (8 ounces; 250 g) salted butter, melted
3/4 cup (150 g) vanilla sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
2. Toast the almonds: Place the almonds in a large, dry skillet over moderate heat. Shake the pan regularly until the nuts are fragrant and evenly toasted, about 2 minutes. Watch carefully! They can burn quickly. Transfer the almonds to a plate to cool. Set aside. (The almonds may also be toasted on a baking sheet in the preheated oven.)
3. In the bowl of a food processor, coarsely chop the almonds.
4. In a bowl, combine the chopped almonds, flour and polenta. Toss to blend.
5. In another bowl combine the melted butter, sugar, egg, and almond extract, and stir to blend. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients and stir to combine until the mixture is homogeneous. The texture should be like that of cookie dough.
6. Drop the mixture onto the baking sheet in handfuls, rubbing the dough between your fingers to make its characteristic uneven surface. Scatter the reserved whole almonds on top of the dough.
7. Place in the center of the oven and bake until deep golden and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. MAKE SURE THAT THE CAKE IS GOLDEN AND CRISP! THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT. Let cool before serving. The crumbly almond cake is not cut with a knife but simply broken into pieces by hitting with your fist o breaking with your fingers. It is ideally matched with a sweet red wine, such as Recioto, but can also be served with a generous sprinkle of grappa. The cake keeps well, and can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week.