The single most important thing in this post: sugared coconut raspberries are like crack. It's sort of a long and rambling story to get to the sugared coconut raspberries, though.... (You might want to make a quick plate of them and eat it while you read.)
Anita taking a romp through the muddy raspberry tunnels.
Last weekend, the wonderful folks at Driscoll's Berries hosted a ROAD TRIP! for a bunch of us blogger types to visit one of their berry farms near Monterey and then to attend the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. I'm usually a bit wary about these things, but I just can't say "no" to a berry farm--it's been too many months since the last time I was in one. And, it actually turned out to be a super fun day, talking to one of the scientists who heads up strawberry breeding (yay, science! I asked statistics questions--cause I'm a geek like that), hearing from one of the Driscoll's growers, and spending the day with some of my favorite Bay Area people: Anita, Shauna, Sabrina, and Irvin. As a huge, huge bonus, Kamran flew in from New York for the event and was an honorary Bay Area blogger for the weekend, making me wish for the millionth time that New York and San Francisco weren't so many miles apart.
I discovered this weekend also that when Kamran visits, he comes bearing awesome gifts, like a copy of the brand new, hot off the presses Ripe by Nigel Slater. The morning after I received the book (thanks, Kamran!), I cracked it open and within seconds wanted to do nothing but devour the entire book from cover to cover (which is a wee tad impossible in one sitting, given how monstrous it is!). It is such an utterly beautiful book in every way--the photographs, the typography, the recipes, and the writing. The recipes are incredibly simple and appealed immediately to my Berkeley/Chez Panisse-grown sensibilities of doing as little to good ingredients as possible. And they aren't dry recipes to read, either: studded inside the instructions are small colloquial comments from Slater--like how mixing the dough by hand instead of via a food processor is a rewarding and relaxing experience if you have the time. It's personable and human in a way that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling as you read while most recipe writing these days focuses solely on the mechanical and reads like technical manuals (my own included!).
Anyways, so there I am, entranced by Ripe when I come across a rhubarb chapter and this rhubarb polenta cake. First off, I'm a sucker for any cake that has crunchy turbinado sugar sprinkled on top. I'm also a sucker for any corn-related cake/bread (I sometimes swear I should have grown up in the South). Then, I got really excited because I still had rhubarb leftover from last week to use up, so heck yes I can make this cake! :D Then, thinking about rhubarb got me to thinking about a rhubarb dessert that Chef Johnny Iuzzini had served at Pebble Beach that had adorable tiny coconut meringues on top that went really well with the acidity of the rhubarb, and then thinking about Pebble Beach made me remember how much I craved raspberries after spending time in the Driscoll's berry fields that day.... which finally gets us to the origin of sugared coconut raspberries! (I told you it was sort of a roundabout story, but that's kind of how my brain bizarrely works.)
[click on photo for a larger image]
So these raspberries: between the natural raspberry sweetness and a little extra from a bit of sugar and then the pop of flavor from the coconut, they are pretty hands-down addictive. I started snacking on a few of them and then suddenly, the whole plate was gone! and I had to make more to serve with the cake--oops! I also threw in some toasted coconut chips for a bit of crunch against the raspberries. The cake itself had a bit of crunch, too, mostly from the coarse polenta, which is perfect against the soft center of the baked rhubarb inside. It's a cake that's really nice and moist on its own, too, and didn't need any of the extra rhubarb poaching juices that Slater suggested as a serving accompaniment. Plus--sugared coconut raspberries trump rhubarb poaching juices any day (sorry, rhubarb). :)
Read on for recipe....
Rhubarb Polenta Cake with Sugared Coconut Raspberries
makes one 6-inch round cake
heavily adapted from Nigel Slater's Ripe
½ lb (227 g) rhubarb stalks
2 Tbspn (25 g) dark brown sugar
2 Tbspn water
zest of 1 small orange
¼ cup + 2 Tbspn (63 g) coarse polenta
¾ cup (100 g) all-purpose flour
½ tspn baking powder
a pinch of ground cinnamon
¼ cup + 2 Tbspn (75 g) dark brown sugar
5 Tbspn (72 g) butter, cold
1 large egg
1 Tbspn whole milk
¼ cup (13 g) dried coconut chips
1 punnet (170 g) raspberries
1 Tbspn sugar
½ tspn coconut extract
½ tspn water
1. for rhubarb. Preheat oven to 350° F. Preheat a baking tray in the oven for the cake.
2. Chop the rhubarb stalks into roughly 1-inch pieces. Place in a baking pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar, water, and orange zest on top of the rhubarb. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, until the rhubarb is fork-tender but not too soft. Do not overbake; the rhubarb should still hold shape. Remove from oven and drain the rhubarb.
3. for cake. Grease and flour the bottom and sides of a 6-inch round cake pan. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the polenta, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and brown sugar. 5. Cut the butter into the food processor bowl. Pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
6. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Add to the food processor. Pulse just until a soft and slightly sticky dough forms—do not overmix.
7. Press about two-thirds of the batter into the bottom and up a bit of the sides of the prepared cake pan. Make sure there are no gaps or cracks.
8. Top batter with the drained rhubarb stalks, leaving a small border around the edge of the pan.
9. Place chunks of the remaining batter on top of the rhubarb. The rhubarb does not need to be completely covered.
10. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
10. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
11. Place the cake pan on the preheated baking tray and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Wait to unmold the cake only when the cake pan is slightly warm to the touch.
12. for raspberries. Meanwhile, spread the coconut chips onto a baking tray. Bake for 3 – 5 minutes, watching closely so the chips do not burn. When they turn golden, remove from the oven and let cool.
13. In a bowl, gently stir together the raspberries, sugar, coconut extract, and water. Let sit for 15 – 30 minutes, until the raspberries are glossy and the sugar has dissolved.
14. Mix the dried coconut chips into the raspberries just before serving with the cake.