Countertop Baking

For the third time in seven years, my oven has died. Unlike times one and two, though, this was no simple fix, no swapping a blown ignitor for a new and functioning one. No, this time the wiring and the board had shorted out and replacement parts alone would cost about two-thirds of the original purchase price of the range. What to do? I wondered. Repair? Replace? A repair at the price quoted seemed a ridiculous waste of money. But replacing the range posed problems too. For the past two years we have been tossing around the idea of a full kitchen renovation. Living with the previous owner’s junky cabinets now that doors are starting to fall off hinges prompts conversations both excited and purposeful, until other more pressing life events intervene and push the very real need for renovation back to the bottom of the to-do list.

But lately, as dishwasher began droning and thumping during its cycles, and refrigerator started turning anything set on its top shelf into slush, the item of renovation had crept back up the list, edging out other needs in importance. If we were to get serious about the seriously needed renovation within the next six months, why buy a new range now, especially since the gas cooktop still worked just fine? Why not wait until we had space for a range we might select after careful consideration, instead of buying in haste? Why indeed? Well, my thoughts always returned to this one fact: I couldn’t live for the next six months without an oven.

And then a friend suggested a countertop convection oven as a quick and relatively inexpensive fix.

“I thought those were just oversized toaster ovens,” I said.

“Not so,” she told me. “You can do all sorts of cooking in them, especially the bigger models.”

Hearing that, I researched and read reviews and learned. People did do all sorts of cooking in these convection ovens – bread, casseroles, muffins, cookies – and I could join their ranks. Even if the appliance only worked pretty well, I reasoned, pretty well beat an oven that didn’t work at all. The price didn’t come close to the cost of repair or a replacement either, adding frugal to the column of pros. I couldn’t list any cons, not even redundancy once we had a new kitchen in place; someone in our sphere would be able to use the countertop oven after our need for it had ended.

I bought the convection oven, and then I made a simple, single-layer birthday cake and a batch of zaleti in it. I tell you the oven works better than I had any reason to hope.

On Wednesday, I met a friend at New England Olive Oil Company in Concord to sample some of their extensive collection of oils and balsamic vinegars. I told Prow I was looking for, among other things, a light olive oil I could bake with as a substitute for butter. The store’s owner heard me and suggested the blood orange olive oil. “It’s popular with the bakers,” he said.

My thoughts went immediately to the bag of blood oranges I had at home, a tucked away recipe for Blood Orange Polenta Cake from an old issue of Bon Appetit, and of course the new appliance sitting, waiting on my kitchen counter.

“I’ll take some,” I told him.

Once home, I modified Bon Appetit’s recipe a bit by: using the blood orange olive oil in the batter instead of butter; adding a smidge of the orange-laced extract, fiori di sicilia, along with the vanilla; and baking the cake in a pie plate instead of a metal skillet (the interior of the convection oven is roomy and accommodating, but not when it comes to skillet handles). The finished cake is delicious, and I am back in the business of baking.

Here’s the recipe as written for use in a standard oven. If you’re baking smaller, as I am, I have included at the end instructions that have been adjusted for a convection oven.

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Blood Orange Polenta Cake

To prepare oranges:

  • 6 Tbsp. sugar, divided
  • 3 Tbsp. water
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 unpeeled small to medium blood oranges

For cake batter:

  • ¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp. polenta or coarse yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. coarse kosher salt
  • ¾ cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp. additional sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. blood orange olive oil, or any favorite light-flavored olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp. fiori di sicilia
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 6 Tbsp. whole milk

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Combine 6 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoons water in 10-inch-diameter ovenproof skillet with 8-inch-diameter bottom and 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup is golden amber (not dark amber), occasionally brushing down sides of skillet with wet pastry brush and swirling skillet, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and whisk 2 tablespoons butter into caramel. Set aside.

Cut off both rounded ends of each orange so that ends are even and flat. Using sharp knife, cut oranges very thin, into 1/16-inch rounds. Remove and discard any seeds.

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Arrange orange slices, overlapping slightly, in concentric circles atop caramel in bottom of skillet.

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Whisk flour, polenta, baking powder, and coarse kosher salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat ¾ cup sugar, the olive oil, and vanilla in another medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in three additions alternately with milk in two additions, beating batter just until incorporated.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold one-third of the egg whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining egg whites in two additions. Spoon batter over the orange slices in skillet, then spread evenly.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in skillet 10 minutes. Run small knife around cake to loosen. Place platter over the skillet. Using oven mitts, hold platter and skillet firmly together and invert, allowing cake to settle onto platter. Rearrange any orange slices that may have become dislodged. Cool cake completely at room temperature.

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To modify for baking in a convection oven, prepare the caramel in the skillet as described above. Once the caramel is finished, pour it immediately into a deep 9-inch glass pie plate, and lay the orange slices on top, as detailed above.

Continue with the recipe as written.

Baking time may be shorter in the convection oven, so begin checking for doneness at 37-40 minutes.

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©2013  Jane A. Ward