Our good friends Cate and Eric came up from NY for the weekend. I immediately thought this would be the perfect occasion to use the turkey stock I had made from Christmas as well as try out some new recipes. (Despite what they say about how you should never cook something for guests you haven’t made before, I generally see guests as an occasion to try something a little more interesting than normal. Granted, it’s not as if soup is particularly risky).
At Christmas I decided to make the roast turkey stock (“jus roti”) as described in Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist Cooks at Home. While this is a pretty compact volume, it was the first time I had ever heard of Mark Bittman (I sort of appropriated it from my husband/then fiance). I made a lot of recipes out of it during the summer after law school and quickly became a Bittman devotee. (My favorite thing about Bittman is the way he presents a recipe as a “base” and then explains how you can just tweak it for a totally different result. I think it really teaches you a lot about cooking and can help you to become more confident in the kitchen). The idea is you roast the leftover bones and meat from the turkey for a few hours which caramelizes, and then you simmer for an hour to make stock. I have to say I was a bit uncertain–I feared it would taste burnt rather than “rich” and “complex.” Because making turkey stock is pretty rare, I decided to try to make a relatively simple recipe. It started as a hodgepodge of a few recipes, but basically I ended up adding some turkey thigh pieces, fennel, onion, celery, and carrot, and white wine and pasta. I sauteed the vegetables and the turkey meat and “deglazed” with wine before adding the stock. (The stock was frozen from Christmas; it was not hanging around in the fridge all that time!)
I am happy to say it turned out really well. My husband commented on how much the homemade stock really adds, and I agreed. I have made stock before when we lived in London (a friend of mine commented that the freezer was a morgue after spotting the stash of frozen chicken backs) but I don’t remember it being so markedly better than good quality stock. Perhaps it was the pre-roasting that Bittman suggests, or perhaps those just didn’t turn out so well (too much water? who knows).
For dessert, I made a featured recipe from this month’s issue highlighting the Ottolenghi cookbook. Ottolenghi is an amazing, super-cool, super-elegant “deli” in London that I really miss–I hesitate to say deli because it has such a sophisticated vibe, but you do order by weight and all the foods are beautifully piled onto massive platters. The food display actually is what draws you in (at least, it did for me)–gorgeous stacks of giant meringues drizzled with candy colors, cakes, beautiful Mediterranean salads. I’ll just direct you to the website, but as you can tell I am seriously tempted to buy their new cookbook, despite the fact that I have plenty.
After that intro, I’ll get to the cake: supposedly one of their most popular (somehow I never had it there!) and rightly so, their orange polenta cake (click to link to the recipe). I would normally not be all that attracted to a citrus cake recipe but you won’t be surprised that I made an exception. Actually it should be called a orange almond polenta cake, as there are 2 cups of ground almonds in the recipe. (I was unable to find ground almonds so ran some through the food processor. I think technically it’s supposed to be better to freshly grind nuts anyway, but I wouldn’t have done it if I could have found ground almonds. That said, it’s not actually that hard. The food processor does the work after all). I didn’t really read the recipe before stating and was a bit dismayed to see I had to make caramel to coat the bottom of the pan as a first step. I have made caramel once before, for a flan I attempted in high school. I learned that hot caramel is REALLY hot and had some pretty nasty blisters as a souvenir of the experience. This cake recipe has you melt the sugar in water (which I distinctly recall was not used in my flan recipe, I wonder if that was the problem–I just remember the molten caramel seemed to be jumping out of the saucepan to attack me, but that was a longer time ago than I care to remember). Once it is a rich amber color you are to quickly pour into the cake pan and swirl to cover the base. I didn’t do the best job on that last step, but I came away uninjured which is good enough for me. You then place the sliced skinned oranges on the caramel, and then add the cake batter (which is almost like a paste). The cake slipped right out of the pan after cooking and here’s the end result. A great dessert to enjoy with some great friends!
Orange Polenta Cake (from Ottolenghi the Cookbook, published in Gourmet)
- 1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
- 2 navel oranges
- 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup superfine granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons orange-flower water
- 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
Make Caramel Orange Layer
Preheat oven to 350°F 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. 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.
Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly. Grate zest from oranges and reserve for cake. Cut remaining peel, including white pith, from both oranges with a paring knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove any seeds and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.
Beat butter with sugar using an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in orange-flower water 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). 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.
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.