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Dairy-free, all in one style polenta cake with autumnal figs, orange and anise seed. A perfect company or family cake that keeps beautifully. Easily gluten-free too.This time of year – despite the falling temperatures and falling leaves – is a favourite time for me as a homecook, and glutton. And figs are one reason why.

Beautiful, black bursa figs – with their soft, edible dusky-leather jackets, and their tiny crunchy seeds – are my favourite fruit of autumn. I know this sounds a bit poncey, but eating one transports me back to the garden of an old house we stayed at in southern France. It was a beautiful, sprawling house, isolated from the rest of humankind and overlooking a heat-hazed valley, checkered with fertile plots and poky wee villages. The best thing about this house – other than the bracingly cold pool – was the overhanging fig trees, with fruit so ripe we would find them smashed on the path each morning; useless to us but bliss for the birds. We managed to snaffle a few before they dropped, but even just the scent as we passed under the heavily-burdened boughs was heavenly.

Since then I have greedily bought up ripe figs when in season, trying to briefly experience a glimpse of that wonderful family holiday when we grazed from markets, drank local wine, and skinny-dipped with impunity.

autumn figsFigs seem to be more easily found these days – nearly year-round. But right now is on the edge of best for those of us in the UK and Europe.

Like plums, I enjoy figs most in their natural, raw state. When at their best – their little bottoms anointed with just a droplet of natural syrup – it seems a sin to do anything but slice them;  enjoying their glorious heady perfume with little more than a some soft, spicy leaves – like rocket – and a perhaps a few pinches of creamy, young mozzarella or chalky, lemony, goat’s milk cheese. A sparing drizzle of raspberry vinegar doesn’t go amiss either. See, greedy.

Less oozingly ripe figs are fantastic for roasting, as well as preserving as compote or jam.Dairy-free, all in one style polenta cake with autumnal figs, orange and anise seed. A perfect company or family cake that keeps beautifully. Easily gluten-free too.

Dairy-free, all in one style polenta cake with autumnal figs, orange and anise seed. A perfect company or family cake that keeps beautifully. Easily gluten-free too.And then there is cake. Terrific in cake, providing a crunchy contrast to the softness of the crumb, figs turn a plain cake into, well, a quite sexy cake. Or at least faintly exotic one. They also work their magic in savoury bakes, such as generous wedges baked onto a pizza or bread, with blue cheese, rocket and a drizzle of truffle oil to add further elegance and earthiness. But today it’s about the cake, a polenta-based one, but you could easily use figs and the flavours I suggest in a Madiera (pound) cake or any other plainish cake. Studding a French-style yogurt cake with slices of fig would be wonderful.

I don’t image the Turkish bursa fig will be around for much longer, so I am making the most of them while they are at their dusky, fragrant peak. After this month I will be getting my fig hit in the form of candles. To burn, not eat. 😉

Are you crazy about figs? How do you best enjoy them?

Dairy-free, all in one style polenta cake with autumnal figs, orange and anise seed. A perfect company or family cake that keeps beautifully. Easily gluten-free too.

Fig and Walnut Polenta Cake

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

I’ve ground up toasted walnuts in my blender to make a flour, but use bought ground almonds if this seems one step too far. But the walnuts are absolutely fantastic here, and so different to almonds. Also, you can leave out the possibly tricky to get anise seeds, or substitute with lightly toasted and ground fennel seeds (both are a little liquorice-like), but in the amount used they add a haunting, almost irresistible note that you can’t quite put your finger on – but want all the same. Anise and figs are an amazing match.

The bundt type tin is my favourite tin for most cakes – so easy to make even slices – but use a square tin or loaf tin if that’s what you have or prefer, perhaps covering the cake towards the end and leaving in a further 10 minutes. I’ve only made this in a bundt tin so can’t give specifics on the timings for other tins. Also, I haven’t tried this recipe with a gluten-free flour blend but if you are celiac this option should be fine with a little added moisture in the form of orange juice. Adapt as you would normally. Enjoy! xx

Oil spray or butter, for pan

150ml light olive oil or cold-pressed rapeseed oil (organic or best quality)

100g golden caster sugar or raw sugar of choice, blended to fine sand + extra for top

3 medium organic eggs

100g walnut pieces, lightly toasted in 180C/350F oven for eight minutes and blended into a fine meal/flour OR bought ground almonds

100g fine polenta*

75g unbleached spelt flour or plain/AP flour* + a little extra for pan and chopped figs

1 ½ tsp baking powder

2 tsp vanilla extract or 1 fat vanilla pod, seeds scraped out for use

1 ½ tsp anise seed, lightly toasted in a pan and then crushed – optional (plus extra for garnish)

Zest of one small orange or a clementine

6 small black figs – 4 chopped and 2 sliced for top

* You may use 175 grams polenta instead of the flour, but it will be a different, denser, cake. Do use flour to line the tin and to coat the chopped figs – gluten-free in this case is fine.

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F. Butter or oil a bundt-type pan (or savarin) or 9-inch square tin. Add 1 tablespoon of flour to the tin and turn the tin to coat the buttered inside in a light coat of flour. Shake out excess and set aside.

2. Add the oil, sugar and eggs to the bowl of an upright food mixer, food processor or use a large bowl and big spoon. For the food mixer use the paddle attachment. Blend on high for a couple of minutes, or beat well with a spoon until lighter and, if not quite fluffy, changed in texture.

3. Toss the chopped figs in 1 tablespoon of flour

4. Turn off the machine and add the walnut flour, wheat flour, polenta, baking powder, vanilla, anise seed and orange zest. Beat until well-blended, then fold in the chopped figs. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.Dairy-free, all in one style polenta cake with autumnal figs, orange and anise seed. A perfect company or family cake that keeps beautifully. Easily gluten-free too.

5. Dot the batter with the sliced figs, sprinkle with a little sugar and anise seeds and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake slightly pulls away from the sides and the top is starting to brown. The figs will get darker and bubbly too.

6. Cool in the tin, and then carefully turn out, helping it along with the edge of a knife or plastic spatula if necessary (the figs can make things a little sticky). Serve with warm custard, ice cream, yogurt or just as it is. This not too sweet cake is also nice at breakfast with some yogurt, extra figs and blueberries.

46 thoughts on “Fig & Walnut Polenta Cake Recipe

  1. josephinechristie14 says:

    This looks like such a lovely autumnal recipe!

    Jo x
    pbandjo.com

  2. nadiashealthykitchen says:

    This polenta take looks INSANELY delicious Kellie! The perfect autumn pick me up treat with a lovely cup of tea – YUM! The shots are so beautiful 🙂

    1. Thanks so very much, Nadia. It is easy to take decent pix when working with such gorgeous ingredients 🙂

  3. so beautiful! I love how figs go all gummy and look like gems when they back and then set off against the yellow of the polenta, it’s simply beautiful. You have inspired me! Oh and my photography has really improved since our Facebook chat the other day, so thank you x

    1. Thanks so much for the cake feedback and on my photography tips on FB. Was it sorting the ISO that helped, Dom?

  4. debspots says:

    This is gorgeous, looks and sounds so yummy! I am, like you, a huge fig fan. So jealous that there is no such thing as a local fig here! When I am able to get ’em fresh, I like them in my yogurt or on a salad, or on a pizza: http://debspots.com/2015/09/02/rustic-fig-pizza/

    Love your blog!

  5. Absolutely gorgeous photos! I’ve been on the search for figs here in NC without success. Once I find them, I’d love to make this delectable cake!

    1. I hope you find figs for their own sake *and* to make this cake. We are not cake people but I will happily eat a slice of this a day if allowed to!

  6. Jasmine S. says:

    This sounds and looks delicious! Your photos are beautiful.

  7. chefceaser says:

    Reblogged this on Chef Ceaser.

  8. This looks delicious!! You have the most beautiful photographs!

  9. Ah Kellie, so many things about this post made me want to jump out of my chair and hop a flight to your house, in spite of the fact I’m already booked to Prague tomorrow to meet my mom. 😉 I’m jealous of your personal fig tree since I grew up picking from the one in my grandmother’s backyard. This cake is gorgeous and I love the anise orange pairing. I know this is a polenta cake, but do you think more ground walnuts (or almonds) could be substituted?

    1. You know, I’m not sure Katie. I just had a look around to see about using all nuts in place of polenta (as opposed to subbing for flour) and didn’t find anything. I think just using some walnuts in place of some flour in a ‘regular’ cake recipe would be the way to go. I’m not enough of a baker or chemist to know how to do it in a polenta cake tbh. In any case, I hope you have a wonderful time with your mother in Prague. And thanks for the lovely words. 🙂

  10. filthynapkin says:

    This is beautiful, figs are so delicious this time of year! Such a wonderful Fall treat and the photography really brings out the beautiful Autumn colors of the dish.

    1. Thanks so much for your really lovely comment.:-)

  11. Wonderful, I love figs too Kellie transporting me to warmer climes and the crowded lanes of spice markets💕 Also have to say how beautiful the colours and textures are in these images…very tempting

    1. I’m very happy that figs have the same effect on you. They really are special. Exotic yet familiar.

  12. Nandini says:

    It’s beautiful Kellie 🙂

  13. I LOVE fresh figs!!! When they are readily available at my local market I come home with bags full and every intention of doing something amazing with them…then end up just eating them all and thoroughly enjoying them in their raw natural state!!
    Your cake looks gorgeous xx

    1. Thanks so much, Elaine. A few friends have said this is the best cake they have ever eaten. I think they were just being nice, but it is a pretty nice cake. Not too sweet either. Most of the sweetness is really from the fresh figs.

  14. Izu says:

    Oh, I didnt know that figs can be eaten. In my country (Vietnam) we have so many figs but they are just for nothing :-s. Or may it be another kind of fig?
    I am going to try figs someday if they are eatable hihi

    1. Yes! We will probably have different varieties – do you have ones that look like in my images I wonder? – but if Vietnamese figs are edible rather than medicinal then do give this a try. 🙂

      1. Izu says:

        In Vietnam, they are in the pic here 🙂

      2. Izu, they look like apples! They are certainly very different to our figs so I’m not sure if they are suitable for this kind of recipe. I do wonder if anyone cooks with your figs in your country, or if they are just pretty tree “ornaments” 🙂

      3. Izu says:

        I have googled then found that they have just been used as a traditional dish of Vietnam (not baked as ingredient of cakes) and not so popular :).
        Some families use these figs for displaying in Tet holidays (lunar new year in Vietnam).

        So if I have chances, I may try them someday hihi

      4. Thanks for that bit of information, Izu. You have expanded my culinary knowledge 🙂

      5. Izu says:

        Reading your note also helps me a lot in baking and cooking. Thank you :). Have a good day.

  15. Jess Carey says:

    Figs, walnuts and polenta – 3 of my favorites!! This sounds so good!

    1. Thanks Jess. The walnuts make such a good change from almonds here, although almonds are nice too of course. Any nuts go with figs. A seasonal complement thing, I guess.

  16. stateeats says:

    Gorgeous photos. I’ll take mine with a cuppa tea pls! – Kat

    1. That’s my choice too. A light Assam for me 🙂

  17. kacielmorgan says:

    This looks so good and I love your photos; they’re so clear!

  18. crispsweet says:

    nice one!! as a Nigerian…this is perfect.

  19. Goodness you are a brilliant writer, photographer and cook. Thanks for the beautiful recipe and the momentary escape to the South of France. I feel like I’ve been there now too. 😊

  20. This is such an interesting recipe Kellie! I’m also loving the autumnal styling 😉

  21. Delicious recipe and beautiful pics! I am not much of a baker but would definitely love to try this

  22. The cake looks amazing and I love all those pretty photos.

  23. This looks stunning. I’ve never baked figs into a cake before. I want to make this immediately!

  24. Nicola says:

    Great pics! Love the use of walnut and polenta flours. Can’t wait till our fig tree starts producing, but might be a while yet.

    1. Oh, sneak some ripe bought ones into the trolley if they are available. After gorging on raw ones first of course!

If you have time, I would love to hear from you. Thanks so much!

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