Polenta cakes are stupidly easy to make. I don’t mean this as an insult to polenta cakes, you, or anyone else for that matter. But, really. Dumping everything in a stand mixer and pressing ‘on’ is pretty easy. And sometimes – even although you may be the best baker in your family, in your workplace, in the world – stupidly-easy is what you need. If and when that situation arises, polenta cake is there for you.
We have Italians to thank for this brilliant way with dried and ground corn. They took something inherently bland and really quite gritty, and magicked it into a delectably more-ish cake.
Variations abound, and often include wheat flour – even potato flour – but I find traditional Italian ones, dare I say, a tad dry. I’m guessing here but this may be deliberate: a way to convey Vin Santo to the mouth.
Rectifying a tendency to dryness is where the British lemon drizzle cake often comes to the rescue. The sticky-sharp syrup of this stalwart of the tea tray is frequently used to drench today’s polenta cakes. Which is lovely, but in this cake I like to drench the cake with fruit – sweet, juicy, nutritious fruit. You, of course, may do both. Or even pour over warmed good quality honey mixed with lemon: I sometimes do, especially if I have accidentally overbaked the cake. Which happens more often than I should admit to. So maybe it is not so stupidly-easy after all!
What is your stupidly-easy bake?
Last year: So Summer Chickpea Salad
Two years ago: Tomato and Skillet Corn Quinoa Salad
Track of the Week: Aiofe O’Donovan’s ‘Beekeeper’ – haunting, beautiful, amazing guitar work
I make this lemon drizzle-polenta cake hybrid a lot for my summer cancer nutrition workshops. Along with my Chocolate Beetroot Cake, this seems to be a favourite. I think what sets it apart from other, similar, cakes is the double helping of lemon juice and the zingy fresh berries – a zing that is sometimes missing from so-called lemon cake. What is missing from this cake is the syrupy topping. But I don’t think you will miss it. At least I hope not!
This is pretty healthy for a cake – no butter, no flour, and a relatively small amount of sugar for a cake. However, it goes without saying that for most of us (she says patting her belly) this is for an occasional treat, not everyday munching. We like this quite puddingy and a bit squidgy: if you like a firmer cake, leave it in a little longer. It will still be lovely and soft. And when summer berries are scarce just push in slices of ripe fruit of choice – pears, plums, cooked quince.
This is suitable for those with coeliac disease and a soft diet. Dairy-free and gluten-free, too.
150ml light rapeseed oil/light olive oil/virgin coconut oil
125g unrefined caster sugar OR coconut palm sugar
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp turmeric (optional)
175 g ground almonds
zest 1 unwaxed organic lemon + juice of 2 lemons OR small oranges
1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
Fresh berries – to plop onto the batter before baking (I used black currants here)
1. Oil and baseline an 11 x 7 inch/27.5 x 18cm (approx) pan. Preheat oven to 180 C/160 C fan/350F. Have your baking paper reach up from two sides so that you can pull the cake out easily when cool. Or use a loose-bottomed tin.
2. Beat together the oil and sugar. I use a stand-mixer and let it rip for about 4-5 minutes. Pour in the polenta, baking powder, turmeric, almonds, lemon zest and juice, vanilla and eggs. Mix well and pour into the prepared tin. Although I use a stand mixer for this, strong arms or electric beaters are fine.
3. Top the golden batter with a good sprinkling of your chosen berries. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes, checking at 20 minutes and perhaps covering with foil to prevent burning. I usually take it out at 25 for a slightly softer cake. You can also make this in a well-greased muffin tin (uses 9-10 holes); bake these for about 20 minutes, but check at 15. The top of the cake or muffins should be golden brown in patches and just starting to pull away from the sides of the tin.
4. Let the cake stand for about 20 minutes before pulling it out by the baking paper ‘handle’ and onto a serving board or plate. It should ideally be slightly ‘puddingy’in the middle; certainly not at all dry.
Serve barely warm, or cold, with fruit compote and/or vanilla custard (and!).
Makes 16 pieces – freezes well once sliced
NB I sometimes add in some green tea powder (matcha powder) to the batter but the colour is a bit odd.