This recipe is adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.
Hazan's orginal recipe calls for 2 tablespoons fennel seeds, but I found that 1 tablespoon was more than enough. Add more to your liking, if desired.
Pine nuts go rancid rather quickly; store them in the freezer for longer shelf life.
Toast fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes until golden and fragrant.
- Yield:8 to 10
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:3 hours, 30 minutes
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
- 1/4 cup unseasoned, toasted bread crumbs
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup coarse polenta or cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup raw pine nuts (see notes)
- 1/3 cup golden raisins
- 1 cup dried figs, cut into quarters lengthwise
- 1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted (see notes)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with 1 tablespoon butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs, tapping and shaking pan to distribute crumbs evenly.
Bring water to boil in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add polenta in a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Stir in salt and olive oil and continue stirring until polenta thickens and the water has been fully absorbed, about 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from heat.
Add sugar, pine nuts, raisins, figs, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, beaten egg, and fennel seeds and stir until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and stir until thoroughly combined.
Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top out with rubber spatula. Bake until cake tester comes out clean, 45 to 60 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert cake onto plate, then invert onto cooling rack so domed side is facing up. Cool completely on rack, 1 to 2 hours, before serving.