Noe Valley Yogurt Polenta Cake

It’s Fiesta Friday #8, and I’m in a nostalgic mood.I created this loaf in desperation to duplicate the awesome cornmeal blueberry muffins I used to eat every day at Martha & Bros coffee shop in Noe Valley, SF.

I’ve lived a few different places in the past 25 years and each place is strongly associated with very specific and sharply recalled foods, songs, smells, walks, and colors . . . . the memories still visit me in my dreams and some times haunt me with bittersweet longing to return.  My memory for little details rooted in place and past, down to license plate numbers, outfits, telephone numbers, can be eerily uncanny, and yet if you ask me about a line from a movie, a sports statistic . . . I’m useless.

So right after college I lived in Noe Valley, San Francisco.  Most of my work colleagues also lived in “the city” and my most immediate superior and I carpooled together every day.  My Aunt Suzie lived exactly 4 miles across Divisadero in Cow Hollow and I walked over to her place once a week on the weekends, sometimes to check out a new restaurant with her, sometimes to eat at her home.  Such good times.

I had 2 cats, Ernie, a near Russian Blue & Bert, black & grey small tiger, that one morning brought me a cockroach so big I thought it was a small lobster.  Ernie made it all the way to Pittsburgh and back to Los Angeles with me, but Bert went MIA on the move to Pittsburgh.

Recently my husband and I took a trip to San Francisco and one morning I forced him to walk from Union Square to my old neighborhood.  I was delighted to see that Martha & Bros. was still there . . . . the same sisters were even working on that day, 20 years later. And unbelievably, they still had the same cornmeal muffins.  These muffins were super sweet from the corn, very very dense and moist, and studded with berries.

So for Fiesta Friday I mixed a little coarse polenta with some raw homemade whole milk yogurt and a few rye berries and let it soak overnight.  It’s sort of the same idea as when you soak chicken in buttermilk before you fry it.  It ups the tenderness, tanginess and juiciness.  In the morning I added some citrus juice and a little water and baking soda.  I sliced up some beautiful Cara Cara oranges and some grapefruit and laid them flat on my cast iron dutch oven that I’d placed in a 500 degree oven with coconut oil.

After the citrus slices carmelized a bit, I scattered a few berries on top, poured the batter over, topped the dutchie and baked!  I baked it for 15 minutes covered at 500, then 15 minutes at 450 covered, then 20 minutes uncovered.  After cooling I flipped it onto a plate and voila!  It was every bit as dense and sweetly delicious as my memories of Noe Valley!

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22 Comments on “Noe Valley Yogurt Polenta Cake

  1. A lovely story of nostalgia…I enjoyed the walk down memory lane with you! The cake looks heavenly! Being able to see the little bits of corn in the slice alerts me to the fact it is bound to be delicious 🙂 Happy Friday to you!

  2. Wow, this post really resonates with me; I can totally relate to that sense of longing/reminiscing and associating food and memories of a place. How wonderful you were able to recreate that delicious taste and enjoy the memories. I love anything citrus; I never thought to combine with polenta/corn – or blueberries with cornmeal, for that matter — you’ve got me thinking! And wanting a bit of this cake! Thanks so much for sharing, and happy Friday, Sue! -Laura

    • Laura, thank you! Think of it this way: Cornbread with honey, or just cornbread. It’s kinda sweet, right? This cake, or polenta baked into a cake (especially if it’s the primary ingredient) makes like a super dense, coarse, toothsome (filling, but in a good way, like after a run!) cornbread. Happy running, studying & eating!

  3. Oh be still my heart! Another fellow lover of Martha & Bros coffee shop! I frequented the Noe Valley shop too, for a cup of coffee and a treat, on many Saturday afternoons. Then I moved to Bernal Heights and went to the Cortland St. location every Sunday after yoga for my cup of coffee and weekly hello to the fabulous ladies there. How I miss them too! I haven’t had the pleasure of eating their polenta yogurt cake, but yours looks delicious and so flavorful!

    • Oh great then we will stalk you on our next trip to SF and take you out to coffee and a cornmeal muffin, then to Yank Sing, then …….

  4. My gosh, I don’t think I’ve ever had anything like it. Very intrigued now. So, this is sweet like a cake, or more like cornbread?
    Btw, I’m trying to imagine the small lobster cockroach. Yikes! 🙂

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