Tangerine Chocolate Olive Oil Polenta Upside-Down Cake

A while ago I made (and posted about, on Facebook) the blood orange olive oil polenta upside-down cake from Amelia Saltsman’s cookbook that appears variously on the Web; I saw it at the Washington Post’s site. I was obliged to deviate from the recipe because of a mild allergy to gluten, but I would have anyway — I’m lousy at following recipes, and I tend not to measure even when I’m baking. The second time I made the cake I got closer to the published recipe than I did the first time, and I decided that it was sweeter than I actually wanted.

’Tango’ tangerines came back into season a few weeks ago, and I started to think about making a version with those, using somewhat less sugar. (Well, okay, a lot less.) Then it occurred to me that tangerines go nicely with chocolate, so I found a pleasantly compatible olive oil chocolate cake recipe on Nigella Lawson’s Website, and did a mashup of the two. I tested it, and the resulting cake is nice enough that I decided to post it. I must caution you, gentle reader: this cake is not very sweet, and you may want to increase the amount of sugar. I will confess that the first time I made it I did use stone-ground cornmeal, because that’s what I had, and the cake was somewhat, uhhh, crunchy. I don’t mind that, as long as I’m not blindsided by it. I also used Seville orange juice instead of lemon juice, so it was slightly more bitter than it would have been from just the peel of the tangerine slices.

Note, added later, for anyone who is concerned with either Halal or Kosher requirements: ordinary gelatin ain’t. You may want to look on the Web for pages about this. Similarly vegetarians, for whom gelatin is not an option. The second time I made this cake I simply omitted the gelatin from the syrup; it was just fine without. I suppose you could possibly substitute cornstarch or agar or some other thickener, but I haven’t tried, so you are on your own. (If you try any of those, I’d love to hear how well it works.)

Tangerine Chocolate Olive Oil Polenta Upside-Down Cake

For the cake:

For the syrup:


Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). [Caution: The original polenta cake recipe calls for 350°F (180°C); I brought it down to the temp that is called for in the chocolate cake recipe.]

Using a microplane grater, grate the zest from two of the tangerines and reserve it. Juice these two and reserve. Cut both ends off of each of the remaining two tangerines, then cut each of them crosswise into rounds 1/8 to 1/16 inch (3 to ~2 mm) thick. Cut most of the slices in half (you may need to quarter one or two), reserving one whole slice for the middle of the cake. Remove and discard any center pith from them.

Sprinkle Demerara sugar lightly and evenly over the bottom of a flameproof and ovenproof 10-inch (25-cm) skillet (a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is recommended in the original upside-down cake recipe) and sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of the reserved juice over it. Heat the skillet over medium-low heat until most of the sugar is bubbling. Remove it from the heat.

The original upside-down cake recipe suggests starting at the outer edge of the pan and setting the halved tangerine slices in the melted sugar with the “scalloped” edge of each slice touching the edge of the pan. It says you should fit as many slices as you can into the circle, pinching their corners as you set them into the hot sugar, using a knife point or tongs to adjust them if you need to. Some slices will have a “prettier” side; make sure those are placed face down in the sugar. Arrange the remaining halved slices in concentric circles toward the center, finishing with the reserved whole slice in the center. YMMV: for unknown reasons, I found it easier to start in the center and work outward.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In an electric mixer (preferably one that is fitted with a paddle attachment, a luxury I lack at the moment), beat together the oil, brown sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until the mixture is thickened and more or less golden. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until the mixture is thick and creamy, roughly 5 minutes total. Beat in the zest and 1 Tablespoon of the juice. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three batches, beating after each addition just until it is blended in. (I pushed it in with a spoon, in what amounted to a single slow pour.)

Pour the batter evenly over the tangerine slices, and gently smooth the top. (I found that it settled reasonably well on its own.) Bake the cake until the top springs back to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. [This took almost an hour, the second time I made the cake.]

Let it cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then run a thin-bladed knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Put a serving plate face down over the cake, invert the pan and plate together, wait for the cake to separate from the pan if it doesn’t do so immediately, then lift off the pan. If any fruit has stuck to the pan, loosen it with a spatula and place it on the cake.

While the cake is hot, use a fork or bamboo skewer or toothpick to make holes in it, without going all the way through.

While the cake is baking, make the soaking syrup. Fill a medium bowl one-third full with ice and a little water and nestle a smaller bowl, preferably metal, in the ice bath. Pour ΒΌ cup (60 ml) of the remaining juice into a small pot, then sprinkle the gelatin on top and let it soften for 5 minutes. Stir granulated sugar (if any), Cointreau, and lemon juice into the remaining tangerine juice, then stir the mixture into the softened gelatin. Bring it to a simmer over medium heat and stir to dissolve the sugar and gelatin, about 1 minute. (Do not allow it to boil.) Pour the syrup into the waiting bowl, and stir it from time to time until it thickens to the consistency of maple syrup, about 10 or 15 minutes.

Spoon or brush some of the syrup over the cake. Allow it to soak in, then spoon or brush on more. Repeat until you have used all of it. Note: this is much simpler if you leave out the gelatin; you don’t have to heat the soaking syrup, and you don’t have to wait for it to thicken.

Allow the cake to cool completely, then cut it into wedges to serve. (I don’t have to tell you that I didn’t wait for it to cool the first time I made it, do I?)

Here’s what it looked like when it was done:

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Last modified: Wed Apr 27 23:45:52 EDT 2016