I was having coffee with a friend the other day and we were chatting about my ventures in blogging and she made the comment that we must eat so we'll all the time. I had to laugh because some days I get so caught up in the prepping, cooking, styling and photographing (and the learning curve of the latter two), I find myself grabbing dinner from Whole Foods which is sometimes preceded by a crafted cocktail or followed by a homemade dessert. I've been working on finding that balance and rhythm, it's a work in progress and evolving over time, nonetheless the creative process has been rewarding and I've become a champion at carving out valuable time in the margins of my day.
Lately in the baking realm of life I've been leaning towards the simple, rustic fare. Treats that can be mixed by hand, sweetness derived by seasonal fruit more so than sugar. Tarts, crumbles, scones all comforting and delicious with coffee in the morning or after dinner while playing rounds of Uno with my husband and boys. I enjoyed the entire process making this cake, which started with a trip to the farmers market to pick up the most beautiful rhubarb, heading to Providore to grab some quality polenta and demerara sugar, followed by filling my kitchen with aromatics of roasted rhubarb and buttery cake. There are so many days that seem so overwhelming that we forget to enjoy the events that unfold, the lists of things to do or make sometimes over shadow the bits and pieces that make up a perfectly good day. It's nice to think something so simple as a cake can make you slow things down in life.
This cake is absolutely swoon worthy in flavor and the polenta gives a little added texture which makes for a great contrast with the tart rhubarb. Hopefully you can carve out some time and make this little gem and enjoy the remnants of the day.
Rhubarb Polenta Cake
Adapted from Nigel Slater, Ripe
1 1/2 lbs of rhubarb
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons water
3/4 cup coarse polenta
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of ground cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
grated zest of a small orange
10 tablespoons butter
2-4 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon demerara sugar
Lightly butter an 8 inch springform cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and put a baking sheet in it to get hot. Trim the rhubarb, cut each stem into short pieces, and put them in a baking dish. Scatter over the sugar and water and bake for 30 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft but still retains its shape. Remove the pieces of fruit from the dish and put them in a colander to drain. Reserve the rhubarb juice to serve with the cake.
Put the polenta, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sugar in a food processor. Add the grated orange zest and the butter cut into small pieces and process until you have something that resembles soft crumbs. You can do all of this by hand, working the butter into the polenta mixture with your fingertips. Add egg with 2 tablespoons of milk, then blend into crumble mix with food processor or by hand. Take care not to over mix, the dry ingredients and the liquid should come together to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. If it isn't sticky add another tablespoon of milk.
Press about 2/3 of the mixture into the cake pan, pushing it 3/4 inch up the sides with a floured spoon. Make sure there are no holes or large cracks. Place the drained rhubarb on top, leaving a small rim around the edge. Crumble lumps of remaining polenta mixture over the rhubarb with your fingertips, don't worry if the rhubarb isn't all covered. Scatter over the demerara sugar.
Place on the hot baking sheet and bake for 45-50 minutes, cool for bit before attempting to remove from pan. Serve in slices, with the reserved rhubarb juice.