“Let’s go for a walk”, Cory suggested and before I knew it, we were slipping on our shoes and heading out the door. We didn’t have a destination in mind, but our feet took us in the direction of Powell’s Bookstore, which is where we inevitably ended up. Powell’s is a large independent bookstore, taking up an entire city block and then some. It’s a labyrinth of a place and I hardly know where anything is, except for the cookbooks. They must have at least 3 aisles of cookbooks. It’s completely overwhelming and easy to lose an hour there, conjuring up future meals in my head. Despite how often I cook and how much I think about food, I only own a few cookbooks. After two cross country moves in less than 18 months, packing up box after books got old fast, so we ended up donating much of our book collection. Now that we’re in Portland and intend to stay here for at least a couple years, adding a couple cookbooks to the shelf here and there won’t be too painful when we pack up our stuff again, right? That’s what I tell myself, at least. A copy of Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy went home with me that night.
I’ve been happily cooking my way through the book, making crostinis, baking polenta, roasting squash, pureeing soups, and most recently, baking a cake. This is definitely my kind of cake. No frosting, no fondant, no layers, and it doesn’t have to look pretty. While it may seem plain looking at first glance, this cake has a lot going on. The polenta gives the cake a nice coarse texture, it’s accented with a bit of citrus and hints of nutmeg, and your favorite olive oil really gets the chance to shine through here. After just a few minutes in the oven, our little apartment was filled with the scents of orange and marsala. It felt a little like Thanksgiving or Christmas, the days we always have a pot of mulled wine simmering on the stove. It’s the kind of cake I can’t wait to make for just about everyone I know. I have plans to bake it for a get together next week and I’m wondering how it might hold up in the mail with all the other Christmas treats I plan on sending to family. The cake is perfect for dessert, and hey, you could probably get away with having it for breakfast too.
Carrot Polenta Cake with Marsala
(adapted from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy) I made a few minor tweaks to the cake based on what I had on hand. The original recipe calls for the zest of an orange and lemon, but I just used the zests from two oranges since I was out of lemons. I also used a 9″ springform pan, instead of an 8″ x 8″ cake pan. The cake was ready after 32 minutes for me, instead of 35.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dry marsala wine
zest of 2 oranges
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup polenta
2 teaspoons baking powder
dash of freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups shredded carrots (about 3 large carrots)
powdered sugar, for dusting
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush an 8″ x 8″ cake pan with olive oil. Shred the carrots.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together olive oil, sugar, eggs, marsala, and orange zest until blended.
In another bowl, whisk together flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Mix the flour mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to avoid the clumps. Stir in the carrots until thoroughly mixed in. Transfer the batter into an oil-lined cake pan.
Bake the cake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick runs clean. Depending on your oven, it may help to check the cake a few minutes early. Once the cake is done, transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and set on the rack until warm or room temperature. Dust the cake with powdered sugar, and serve.