Brown Butter Polenta Cake with Maple Caramel

On the way in to take my pediatrics shelf exam yesterday, I stepped in a steaming pile of fresh dog turd—an unpleasant but accurate foreshadowing of the boards test-taking experience. I am ever flummoxed that one’s mastery of understanding a medical specialty can be assessed by one hundred arbitrary multiple choice questions. For the next 24-48 hours (only) I will still remember which enzymes are deficient in the rarest-of-rare glycogen storage disorders and congenital metabolic syndromes. The sensation of that knowledge crumbling into the precipice of the forgotten is an almost euphoric awareness of loss.

On this warm Saturday between rotations, as I stare upwards from the bed of green grass in my backyard, it is as if the white clouds above are hulky muskoxen slowly towing away the burden of all my memorized clutter—clearing my mind to match the bright spring sky, the serene blue that is always there beyond the weather. Happiness, literally a piece of cake.

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Brown Butter Polenta Cake with Maple Caramel

Adapted from Bon Appetit Jan 2014

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan

¾ cup pure maple syrup

2 cups almond flour or meal

1 cup quick-cooking polenta

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup plus 1 Tbsp. sugar

3 large eggs

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 9”-diameter cake pan and line bottom with a round of parchment paper; butter parchment.

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Melt ¾ cup butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then cook, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (do not let burn), 5–8 minutes. Pour into a medium bowl; let cool. Chill brown butter until cold.

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Fit a clean medium saucepan with thermometer and bring maple syrup to a boil over medium-high heat; cook until thermometer registers 265° (syrup will be thicker and a shade darker). Pour into prepared pan and spread with an offset spatula or a spoon to cover bottom; let cool (syrup will harden as it sits).

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Whisk almond flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

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Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat chilled brown butter and ¾ cup sugar until very pale and fluffy, 5–7 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low, gradually add dry ingredients, and mix just to combine. Scrape batter into pan; smooth top.

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Bake until cake is golden brown and pulls away from sides of pan, 50–55 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cake cool in pan 20 minutes. Turn out onto rack and let cool completely.

Using an electric mixer, beat heavy cream, sour cream, and remaining 1 Tbsp. sugar in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Serve cake with whipped-cream mixture (I skipped this part. Kept it classy.)

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This cake I made for a dinner party and as a gluten-free dessert, it was incredible. The best part is the glaze—simple and yet just the right amount of sweet. I had no idea what it was to “brown” butter. I think it is similar to making ghee—it just clarifies the butter and does a little Maillard reaction to give it a toasty-coffee-dark-and-rich aroma. Ooh, yum. What a treat to have the time it takes to do this.

3 thoughts on “Brown Butter Polenta Cake with Maple Caramel

  1. Ah, the old dog-turd-reference/delicious-cake-recipe juxtaposition. Always nice.

    Rachel – can you explain to me why US recipes generally call for “kosher salt” instead of just “salt”? Surely for all the gentiles, just using non-kosher salt is ok?

    1. Fabulous question, and I have no idea. I will say that I do actually use kosher salt when a recipe calls for it. I suppose in part I thought it had to do with the coarse texture of kosher salt, lends itself more for sprinkling than for dissolving perhaps. But no, if you had coarse regular old sea salt, probably fine.

    2. Ok, I had to read on this because not knowing was torture. Kosher salt is less dense than table salt, a matter having to do with its flaky shape. So if a recipe calls for regular salt, and you use an equivalent amount of kosher, you are actually getting less salt; and you will get more if you interchange vice versa. My guess is that most US recipes use kosher salt because chefs do it, and the reason chefs do it is because it looks cooler to pinch salt into a recipe (and kosher is easier to pinch because of its shape and texture) than it is to measure out a teaspoon, etc.

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