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Recipe: Winter Citrus And Rose Water Polenta Cake

Photo by Krista Simmons/LAist
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Just like Curtis Stone and the cooks at his new restaurant Maude, we are huge fans of the abundance of citrus that comes in during the winter months. So when Stone invited us to share our favorite citrus recipe with him on the Queen Latifah Show, which will be airing tomorrow at 2 p.m. on CBS, we gladly obliged. (Honestly, who says "no" to cooking for a hot Aussie AND the Queen?)

Instead of doing a classic pairing like citrus and chocolate or a bright winter salad, we opted to get a little wild and bring in a dessert inspired by our travels -- a winter citrus polenta cake spiked with rose water.

We first fell head over heels with rose water backpacking through Northern Africa. The delicate floral flavoring is used around the globe in many applications from Middle Eastern candies like Turkish delight and baklava to Southeast Asian sweets like bandung and Indian rice puddings. When used sparingly, it adds a subtle aromatic quality unlike any other. If it's too heavy handed, however, your dish could end up tasting like a bottle of perfume.

Though we'd love to take credit for being the first to bake a cake for the Queen using rose water, it's been utilized in baked goods for quite some time now. In fact, up until the 19th century, bakers across the globe commonly used rosewater before vanilla became popular. It also is a nice accompaniment to citrus, so we decided to riff on an old recipe from Gourmet Magazine to make something truly unique for the Queen and her court.

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Here's how it's done:

Ingredients for caramel orange layer:

1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar, also known as baker’s sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 cara cara/navel oranges
1 tablespoon orange marmelade

Ingredients for cake:

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon pure lemon extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups ground almonds, also known as almond meal or almond flour
2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta

To garnish:

Greek yogurt
chopped pistachios
orange zest

Method for caramel orange layer:

Preheat oven to 350°F with the baking rack in the middle. Spray the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with PAM, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper and side with a strip of parchment.

Over medium heat, bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber. (Don’t cheat! Using a small saucepan is crucial to getting the right caramel.)

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Remove from heat and add butter and marmalade, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly.

Grate zest from oranges and reserve for the garnish in a small bowl and set aside. Cut remaining peel, including white pith, from both oranges with a paring knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove any seeds and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.

Method for cake:

Beat butter with sugar using an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in rose water and lemon extract.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer at low speed, mix almonds, polenta, and flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly over oranges (preferably with an offset spatula). Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Invert cake onto a cake plate and discard parchment.

Slice and serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt and some crushed pistachios.