Last year, a good taste question was posed to LivingTastefully's Passions-to-Pastry editor -- that would be me. My 5 year-old twin, great nephews were visiting for several days. Never liking the image I had in my head of a great aunt, I have always asked the boys to call me "Great Eileen". I like the sound of that a lot better, don't you? One of the twins came to me while I was sitting in my bed one morning, reading the paper and drinking a cappuccino. Brody said, "Why is all this stuff on the floor?" His eyes were fixed on the disheveled piles of magazines and books I keep under my bedside table. I told him I didn't have anywhere else to put them -- apparently not a good enough answer. Brody told me I could put them under my bed, in a bag, or in the trash. None of us have ever known a 5 year-old to be this concerned, or concerned at all for that matter, about tidiness, organization, or stuff laying around. Since then, I see everything in a new light. Whenever I look around my house, wondering if I should devote the day to cleaning instead of playing in my kitchen, I always see Brody's disapproving stare. Yes, it will be a cleaning day!
One reason I have stacks of magazines and books next to my bed is because I just have so many of them. Cookbooks are a weakness for me and they have been accumulating on my shelves and beyond for many years. I often read cookbooks before falling asleep at night and it's convenient having a few next to my bed. (Sounds like I'm trying to justify my little pile, doesn't it?)
This recipe for Amor di Polenta is from one of those cookbooks I've had for so many years -- 20 to be exact. I bought The Il Fornaio Baking Book in Beverly Hills after eating at the Il Fornaio Restaurant and Bakery. It's always been a favorite of mine.
When I gathered ingredients for the cornmeal cake, I realized the almond paste in my pastry supply drawer had an expiration date of January 2011. That explained why it was rock hard! Having no desire to run out in -0 temperatures to the grocery, nor wanting to pay for a costly little roll of almond paste, I made my own. I suggest you do the same. (Get the recipe for homemade almond paste HERE.) Now, prepare yourself for the delicious aroma this little baked cake will give your kitchen when pulled from the oven. It's wonderful as a snack with a cup of tea!
• 1/2 cup finely-ground yellow cornmeal
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 pound (1 stick) plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 1/4 cups powdered (confectioners') sugar
• 1/4 cup natural almond paste
• 4 egg yolks
• 2 whole eggs
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Additional unsalted butter and cornmeal for the pan
• Additional powdered (confectioners') sugar for cake top
1. PREHEAT OVEN to 350˚.
2. Generously grease an 8 1/2"-by-4 1/2"-by- 2 1/2" loaf pan with butter; sprinkle bottom and sides with cornmeal. Set aside.
3. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter, sugar, and almond paste. Beat at medium speed until mixture is fluffy and pale in color. Continue to beat while adding the egg yolks, one at a time, and then the whole eggs, one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl whenever necessary with a rubber spatula. Beat in the almond and vanilla extracts. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, one-third at a time, beating well after each addition.
5. Scrape the cake batter into the reserved loaf pan. Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven until golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45 to 55 minutes. Remove the loaf pan from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and turn out onto a wire cooling rack. When cool, dust with powdered sugar. Cake can be wrapped, tightly, at room temperature for up to three days.
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