Pear Almond Polenta Cake
By Priscilla Martel
Not too sweet with an intriguing combination of flavors, this Pear Almond Polenta Cake is the perfect autumn dessert. Serve it at a holiday meal or make it to eat for breakfast over a long weekend.
Pears and almonds make great partners. I love a pear frangipane tarte, tender pears tucked into a bed of creamy almond, butter and egg filling. But it’s fussy to make because you need to poach the pears and make tart dough and the filling. For a special treat I’m up for it but not during the holidays when we all have so many things on our mind not to mention guests to feed.
There’s nothing unusual in this cake and it’s simple to make. Don’t be daunted by the number of steps. Pre-cooking the pears ensures they will become tender without discoloring as the cake bakes. You mix it like a standard butter cake, alternating the dry ingredient with the liquids. But I suspect that, with a swift hand, you could you could stir in all the milk then all the dry ingredients. (Swift hand because you do not want to over mix the batter and toughen the cake.)
Ground yellow cornmeal flavors this cake and gives it a subtle texture reminiscent of northern-style cornbread. (In the South, sugar is never added to cornbread.) Instant polenta is extremely fine and the ingredient I use for this cake although one of the superb local cornmeals, used to make Johnnycakes, would be ideal.
Other ideas? Apples might work equally well in this recipe. Plums or fresh figs too although cooking them in the oven would not be necessary. Raisins? Dried apricots? Why not? I’d include a few Tablespoons of diced candied ginger to the last two plus anything else you would like to add.
Yield: 1 Cake, 8 – 10 Servings
3 – 4 firm yet ripe pears, Bosc or Anjou
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup fine ground polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ cup almond flour, natural or blanched
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, very soft
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 whole eggs
2/3 cup plain almond or cow’s milk
Sliced almonds, as needed for garnish
Powdered sugar, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Brush it with vegetable oil. Grease a 10-inch pie or ceramic quiche pan.
- To slice each pear, lay it down on a cutting board. Starting from the outside edge, using a sharp chef’s knife, cut the pear into ¾-inch thick slices through the core. Place the best-looking whole slices onto the prepared baking sheet. You’ll need at least 6 or as many as 8 slices to top the cake depending on the size of your pan. Reserve the pieces sliced from the end and any extra or imperfect slices.
- Sprinkle the pear slices with some granulated sugar. Roast them until tender and just starting to brown for approximately 10 minutes. Set aside.
- Reduce the heat to 350°F.
- Chop the remaining pear slices and an additional pear if needed to make 1 ½ cups of diced pear.
- Stir together the flour, cornmeal, almond flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape the bowl and beat for another 2 minutes until smooth.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is very smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- Add the flour alternating with the milk in three additions ending with the dry ingredients.
- Fold in the chopped pears.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the batter into an even layer using a spatula. Arrange the roasted pear slices on top of the batter. Scatter the sliced almonds over the pears and batter and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
- Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake have begun to shrink away from the pan, approximately 30 – 35 minutes.
- Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before slicing. Dust with powdered sugar. This cake will keep at room temperature, covered for a day or two. Covered and refrigerated, it will keep for up to 5 days.