Polenta Shortcake with Raisins, Dried Figs, and Pine Nuts

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| Servings: 6 to 8 servings

When James Beard sojourned in Venice many years ago, he was fascinated by this local specialty, whose nuts and dried fruits are redolent of imperial Venice’s trading days with the Near East, and he asked me to provide the recipe.

Jim was surprised to find it contained only one egg, but it does rise to about 2 inches, which is not inconsiderable for this rich and dense dessert. It can be quite good served with a dollop or two of fresh whipped cream, but, then, what isn’t?


  • 1 cup coarse cornmeal
  • Salt
  • 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Heaping ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup pignoli (pine nuts)
  • ⅓ cup seedless raisins, preferably of the muscat variety
  • 1 cup dried figs, cut into ¼ inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter plus more for smearing the pan
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • A 9-inch round cake pan
  • Fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan, then adjust heat to medium and add the cornmeal, pouring it in a thin stream. Let it run through the fingers of your partly clenched fist. With your other hand, stir constantly with a wooden spoon. When all the cornmeal is in, add the salt and the olive oil. Continue to stir for about 15 seconds until the mush thickens and pulls away from the sides of the pan when you stir it. Take off heat.
  3. To the cornmeal mush add the sugar, pine nuts, raisins, figs, butter, egg, and fennel seeds, and mix thoroughly to combine all ingredients uniformlY.batter. Add the flour, and mix well to form a smoothly amalgamated cake batter.
  4. Smear the cake pan with butter, sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs, then turn the pan over tapping it against the counter to shake off excess bread crumbs. Put in the batter, leveling it off with a spatula. Place the pan in the upper level of the oven and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.
  5. While the cake is still warm, loosen its sides from the pan with a knife and invert the pan over a plate, shaking it a little to cause the cake to drop onto the plate. Then turn the cake over again onto a serving platter. Serve when it has become completely cold.

Source Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking page 590