Chocolate Polenta Honey Cake is an exceptional Italian cake sure to become a family favorite. In Italy, mention torta and a smile is the response. Torta or cake, is served adorned with powdered sugar, a judicious swirl of panna montata or whipped cream, and perhaps some fresh fruit. With the exception of special family celebrations such as weddings and birthdays, cakes are not layered or frosted. If anything is added, it is a flavorful syrup. Italian torta is not a towering sticky-sweet mass but rather a delicately balanced finish to a good meal.
Honey figures prominently in cakes, especially those made with a small amount of polenta. Polenta cakes are loved, anticipated when a mother or grandmother makes them. Not only do we serve them as dessert, but often we enjoy them for breakfast or as a snack because the polenta makes the cake more nutritious.
Before making the recipe, have ingredients at room temperature.
6 to 8 servings. Baking time is 50 to 55 minutes for 8-inch (20-cm) cake pan or 40 to 45 minutes for 9-inch (23-cm) cake.
8 tablespoons (4 ounces or 1 stick or 113 g) unsalted butter
1/4 cup (1.7 ounces or 48 g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (118 ml) mild honey (such as clover, acacia, or wildflower)
1 large egg
3 tablespoons grated orange zest (3 medium oranges)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup (3 ounces or 85 g) fine or instant polenta
1 cup (5 ounces or 142 g) cake flour (tapped down)
2 teaspoons (0.3 ounce or 8.5 g) baking powder
1 cup (8 ounces or 237 ml) milk
1/2 cup (2 ounces or 57 g) Dutch-processed cocoa
1/2 cup (118 ml) fresh orange juice (use the 3 oranges)
1/4 cup (59 ml) honey (same type as above)
Powdered sugar sifted on top of the cake
8-inch (20-cm) or 9-inch (23-cm) shiny spring form pan or deep round cake pan
Parchment or baking paper lining the bottom of the pan
Unsalted butter and flour coating inside of the pan
1. Preheat the oven to 325º F/165º C/Gas Mark 3. Butter and flour the inside of the baking pan.
Optional: Place a circle of baking or parchment paper in the bottom of the pan for ease in removing the cake. If using the paper, there is no need to butter or flour the bottom of the pan.
Making the Cake Batter: Using the paddle of the stand mixer, on medium speed: beat the butter for 2 minutes until creamy and fluffy. Add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute until creamy and fluffy. Scrape the bowl. Pour in the honey and beat until smooth and creamy. Scrape the bowl, add the egg and beat for 1 minute. Add the orange zest, pour in the vanilla extract and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl.
2. With the mixer on medium speed, pour in the polenta and beat for 1 minute. Add the flour, baking powder and salt in 3 batches, alternating with the milk, on low-medium speed. Blend very well, about 1 to 2 minutes total time, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl as well as the bottom, but do not over beat or the batter becomes stiff. It should remain supple. Sift in the cocoa and beat for several seconds until blended. Scrape the bowl.
3. Immediately pour into the cake pan, level, place in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes for the 8-inch (20-cm) cake or 40 to 45 minutes for the 9-inch (23-cm) cake or until there are a few small cracks on the cake's surface and a baking needle comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. (You can quickly tap your fingertip on the cake's surface and the cake should bounce back.) Transfer the cake to a cooling rack, rest for about 15 minutes.
4. Syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the juice and honey, stir well to blend. Over medium heat, warm for a few minutes until the syrup almost boils. Remove from the heat. Pierce the cake with tynes of a fork, then baste the cake with the syrup. Allow the syrup to penetrate the cake for about an hour until the cake is cold. If using the spring form pan, release and remove the sides. Place a large plate over the cake and pan, quickly invert, peel off the parchment paper and invert again onto a serving plate. Polenta produces a dense cake that will be 2-inches (5-cm) high for the 8-inch (20-cm) cake and 1 1/2-inches (3.8-cm) high for the 9-inch (23-cm) cake.
Serving: Sift the powdered sugar on top of the cake. Slice and garnish with whipped cream and fresh berries.