Once I stood about the stove every morning to put on a pot of porridge. I’d dress it up with a spoonful of thick and tart yogurt, some honey and pumpkin seeds. If I made a jam I’d swirl that in, drop in a few toasted blanched almonds. A lovely bunch which I’ve found imported from Sicily. And when my jam pot was all up, I’d return back to the dollop of yogurt. I won’t deny this breakfast. I know which oats I like. And I can grab them around the corner. But when I started working earlier, I found I didn’t have as much time at home to put on a pot, be sure it doesn’t burn, then scrub my pot clean after minutes at the table sharing breakfast with my bird. Not to mention it was earlier! “Maybe it would be nicer to have this breakfast a few hours later.” One thing I’ve learned about myself, (great indeed, it’s wonderful to know something about your character!) I am not one for ambient room temperature porridge!
And then I learned about a cooks breakfast. Among the many places which I have worked, I’ve had the opportunity to catch onto, I think a rather intimate part of one’s day being, breakfast. Another one for character. I love learning what a person most often likes to eat at during these usually solely morning hours. It is intimate, isn’t it? A cooks breakfast usually take a little bit from the day’s haul without being much of an impact on production at all. It’s almost unnoticed really. Unless somebody is experimenting. In such a memorable case; we had scrambled eggs. The most softly cooked. Curdling slowly in a large bowl set over a simmering pot as a bain marie. A large slab of focaccia out of the oven, spread thickly with the egg clouds. Salt, olive oil. Wahla! A more usual breakfast was more to the likes of a steaming demi baguette along with an apple received from a delivery. A buttery and nutty scone from the bake off paired nicely with a thick and bitter shot of espresso. Or in the savory kitchen, a bundle of just blanched tender greens tangled atop a thick cut of bread dosed in the good olive oil and salt. All being pieces for tonight’s dinner service. Japanese rice cooked for today’s lunch, spooned into a small bowl along with a softly cooked egg, a good squeeze of the smoky and very sweet soy sauce and a pivotal pinch of togarashi chili powder.
I quite liked the convenience of these breakfasts. Nearly no dishes. At an opportune time of hunger.
During this time I was also reading quite heavily only the backs of Italian cookbooks where the cakes lie. Italian cakes seem to be not very sweet and Italians seem to love these types of cake for breakfast. Breakfast, more likely at the time for a mid morning snack with coffee to get on with it until a more lengthy lunch, a more lengthy dinner to come. I loved this. And adopted it nearly immediately after I got a few cakes under my belt, in which I will share them all in ongoing posts.
This particular cake, received from one of Marcella Hazan’s books, felt quite like a fall breakfast. ½ a cup of sugar for a cake, perplexing. Cooked polenta. Dried fruits and nuts mixed in. “It’s porridge isn’t it?” And it is, nearly. A cake with its own category. And a delicious one at that. Delightfully refined, thanks to thoughtful ingredients. Being a touch sweet, nourishing, and overall a nice combination of flavors and things. Quite like my stovetop porridge I thought. But this one is just as nice too at ambient room temperature. The next day, the day after that. In a little baggy I’ve been munching on it on my train ride to work. Along with coffee from the place down the street from my apartment. It makes for a lovely, easy morning. I look forward to a more lengthy dinner with my bird later on. Happily he’ll stand on my shoulder as we wash the dishes without much of any rush.
1 cup coarse polenta
pinch of salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dried figs, quartered
⅓ cup muscat raisins
⅓ cup pine nuts, I prefer to toast them!
2 tbsp fennel seeds
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp butter, plus more for buttering the pan
1 cup flour, using a freshly milled flour, all the better!
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Begin by first buttering well about a 9 inch cake tin and then lining with flour. Be sure to tap out any excess over the bin! Go onto measuring the ingredients. Combining the dried fruits, toasted pine nuts, fennel seeds and sugar into a cereal bowl. The butter resting on the knife in which you cut from the block. The egg nearby and a cup of flour set into a bowl all for itself.
At the stove bring 2 cups of water up to boil. Pour the polenta in a steady stream through your fingers as you mix about any potential stubborn clumps forming with a handy wooden spoon. When all is in, continue stirring just for a few more seconds, the polenta doesn’t need to be on the stove long. Then add the olive oil and a pinch of salt, another few stirs and take the pot off heat.
Mix in your bowl of nuts and bolts, followed by the egg and butter. And when all mixed in, add the flour. Only mixing until your cake batter is just combined. Pour and smooth into the prepared cake tin. Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan until warm, then invert onto a wire rack and serve as it still cools with a cuppa tea. This cake is lovely at room temperature, grasped in hand as you run out the door tomorrow morning.