Polenta is an Italian store cupboard staple. This versatile ingredient finds its way into many savoury dishes replacing potatoes, rice and pasta. However, here I am delighted to be using our new yellow polenta to make a delicious citrussy sweet treat. Polenta is naturally gluten-free and gives its yellow colour to the cake, making it a vibrant centrepiece for afternoon teas and post-dinner indulgence. It is beautifully moist with a slightly grainy texture and just the right amount of zestiness. I think it is best served warm with a spoonful of mascarpone, drizzle of lemon syrup and a scattering of candied citrus peel.
For the polenta cake:
- 200g Unsalted butter
- 200g Caster sugar
- 200g Ground almonds
- 100g Polenta
- 1 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
- 3 Medium eggs
- Zest of 2 lemons
For the lemon syrup:
- 110g Icing sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 2cm Piece of ginger root, grated
- 1 Cinnamon stick
For the candied citrus:
- Peel of 1 unwaxed lemon
- Peel of 1 unwaxed orange
- 110g Granulated sugar
1. Bring the butter to room temperature to allow it to soften well ahead of time. This is important because it needs to be very soft in order for it to combine well with the sugar.
2. Heat your oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and line a 20cm cake tin with parchment paper.
3. In a medium-sized bowl mix the dry ingredients together (ground almonds, polenta, bicarbonate of soda). Zest two lemons and set to one side.
4. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. With very soft butter this should take around five minutes beating on a high speed. Once it has reached the right texture and colour, gradually add in a third of the dry ingredients, followed by an egg. Make sure this is completely incorporated before adding another third of the dry ingredients and then another egg. Add the remaining ingredients and continue mixing until it is fully combined. Finally mix in the lemon zest.
5. Pour the polenta mixture into the prepared cake tin and place it in the oven for about 45 minutes. To check it is baked through insert a knife or cake tester into the middle, if it comes out clean or almost clean you are ready to take it out. Another feature to look for in a well-baked polenta cake is if it has come away from the sides a bit.
6. Once cooked, leave the cake to cool in its tin on a cooling rack. This allows the cake to set as it cools. While hot, it is very fragile and will break easily if removed from the tin.
7. While your lemon polenta cake is cooling make the syrup and candied peel. For the syrup, pour the lemon juice into a small saucepan, add the icing sugar, grated ginger root and cinnamon stick, mix together and then bring to a boil. Once boiling remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to cool. When it has cooled strain and store in a jar.
8. For the candied peel first cut your lemon and orange peel into thin strips. Place them into a small saucepan and just cover with cold water. Bring the pan to a boil and then leave to gently simmer for 20-30 minutes, then drain.
9. In another small pan add the granulated sugar and 110ml water. When the sugar has dissolved add the peel and allow the contents to simmer for another 20-30 minutes or until the peel is soft and almost translucent. Place the syrup and peel aside to cool a little before handling.
10. Preheat the oven to 90°C/gas mark 1/4. 11. Using a slotted spoon or a fork remove the peel from the syrup and place on a wire rack over a baking tray. Put this into the oven for 30 minutes to dry. Once dry, take them out and set aside to cool for about an hour before using to decorate your cake. Store any remaining peel in an airtight container for up to a week.
11. Serve with a spoonful of creamy mascarpone and a drizzle of syrup. Scatter with the candied peel and prepare to impress!