The magical land of Bucovina, in northern Moldavia, is well known for its outstanding dairy farms and produce. Thick, unctuous smântână and brânză, crème fraîche and curd cheese are used generously in many recipes. This cake is a happy marriage between dairy and another staple ingredient in the region: cornmeal (polenta). It is traditionally made in two versions: one savoury and one sweet, and some recipes add various amounts of flour, oil and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). While it is common in Moldavia to mix cornmeal with flour, I have deliberately returned to a basic, gluten-free recipe here.
450 ml (15 fl oz/ 1 3/4 cups) full-fat milk
80 g (3 oz/ 1/3 cup) golden caster (superfine) sugar
35 g (1 1/4 oz/ 1 1/2 tablespoons) honey
125 g (4 oz/generous 3/4 cup) fine cornmeal (polenta)
25 g (3/4 oz/ 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
3 medium eggs, separated
300 g (10 1/2 oz/ 1 1/2 cups) brânză de vaci, set cottage cheese or ricotta
125 g (4 oz/ 1/2 cup) crème fraîche honey, for drizzling
Bring the milk to the boil in a large pan, then reduce the heat to medium and add the sugar, honey and cornmeal. Simmer for 10 minutes until the milk has been absorbed, then stir in the butter and set aside to cool.
Butter a 15 x 22 cm (6 x 8 3/4 in) rectangular ceramic pie dish. Preheat the oven to 180°C (non-fan)/ 350°F/ gas 4.
In a bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
When the cornmeal mixture has cooled, add the egg yolks and cheese, then fold in the egg whites. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish.
Bake for 50 minutes, covering the top with kitchen foil if it cooks too quickly or reducing the heat to 170°C/340°F/gas 3. The cake will puff up and crack around the edges. Turn the oven off (even if the cake still has a slight wobble in the middle) and allow the cake to cool in the oven until just slightly warm.
When cooled, slice in the tray and serve slightly warm with crème fraîche and a drizzle of honey. It is also good cold.
Excerpted with permission from Tava by Irina Georgescu, published by Hardie Grant, November 2022, RRP $42.00 Hardcover.
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