Orange Polenta Cake with Honey Vanilla Mascarpone sounds very fancy, but it’s actually really easy to make. Instead of flour you use ground almonds and polenta, so the cake ends up a rougher texture and it’s also naturally gluten free. The original recipe is Italian and usually contains lemons, but you can make it with any type of citrus fruit – lemons, limes and oranges all work really well. It’s kind of like the Italian version of lemon drizzle cake; you drizzle the fruit juice over the top of the cake while it cools. I used to make this type of polenta cake about once a week for friends, family, afternoon snacks and late night nibbles, it’s really moreish!
The word ‘polenta’ comes from the Latin pollen, meaning ‘fine flour’. Though polenta’s a bit of an unusual ingredient in the UK, it’s considered a staple in Italy, where it’s been used for centuries as a basis for many peasant dishes. They use it for sweet and savoury food alike, it’s very versatile and can be baked or fried, as well as creamed into a type of porridge. It’s essentially made from grinding corn into rough flour, which produces a bright yellow colour.
The orange in this cake really gives it a fresh light flavour. Oranges are often associated with Spain, but the southern parts of Italy produce a large amount of them too, with varieties ranging from intense blood oranges to fragrant bergamots. To get the most out of your orange zest, make sure to use the top layer of the peel only, as the white part (the pith) is very bitter tasting. Zesters or a very fine hand grater such as a microplane will make your job much easier and create a finer zest, letting the orange flavour infuse evenly. To increase the amount of juice you get out of an orange, roll it firmly between the palm of your hand and a hard surface several times before cutting open.
Polenta cakes have been around for centuries, and hail from Northern Italy, particularly Lombardy, Veneto and Friuli where polenta was used as a cheap yet delicious base for all sorts of meals. Traditionally, these cakes were made with lemons or oranges, but you can make them using any kind of citrus fruit. There are three types of polenta which go from coarse to fine in terms of processing – bramata, fioretto and fumetto. If you can get hold of it, use the fumetto for this cake as the grainier polentas tend to give too much of a coarse texture.
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
1 large juicy orange, finely zested
150g almond meal (ground almonds)
150g butter, softened at room temperature
150g caster sugar
1 heaped tsp baking powder
3 medium sized free range organic eggs
For the drizzle:
The juice from your orange
50g icing sugar
For the mascarpone:
2 tsp organic honey
2 tsp good quality vanilla essence
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins
- Prepare an 8 inch cake tin by lightly greasing the sides. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Beat together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until the mixture turns pale and fluffy. It can take a few minutes and a bit of elbow grease, lightly soften the butter in the microwave for a few seconds to make the process much easier! Mix all your other ingredients (the almonds, polenta and baking powder) in a separate bowl and set aside.
- Stir in a little of the almond mixture into the butter and sugar, crack in one egg and mix until it’s fully incorporated. Repeat this process until you’ve used up all the eggs and almond mixture.
- Mix in the zest and tip the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 30 mins, or until the mixture has risen and formed a golden brown top.
- Take the cake out and leave it to cool. As it’s cooling, mix together the orange juice and (sifted) icing sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the vanilla essence, honey and mascarpone. Taste and adjust the vanilla or honey if needed. The strength of the flavours depends on the ingredients.
- Pierce the cake in several places with a toothpick or fork. Pour over the orange juice. Sprinkle more icing sugar over the top. Serve with a side of honey vanilla mascarpone.
LF – this dish is naturally lactose free
GF – this dish is naturally gluten free
V – this dish is naturally vegetarian
Ve – try margarine instead of the butter and an oat creme fraiche to replace the mascarpone