Saturday, 27 November 2010

TENDER & DAMP LEMON POLENTA CAKE

As her TV series draws to its thrilling climax, it seems that Nigella's double-entendres and suggestive asides grow ever more ridiculous. Or maybe I am just reading too much into the Buxom Goddess's comments? Or perhaps there are just certain words which sound faintly risque, even if they are not: damp, moist, flange, and clematis spring immediately to mind....

Thus, I curled up with laughter when She described this cake as "tender and damp". In the previous episode, her comment "I always like to keep a few chicken thighs somewhere" had me in tucks. Like Harry Hill in his show TV Burp, I am becoming adept at reading far too much into her perfectly innocent vocabulary.

This cake is both Italian and English in its ingredients and inspiration. The polenta and almond mixture is all Italian, producing a tender, crumbly, slightly grainy texture, while the lemon syrup, which is poured onto the cake as it emerges from the oven, makes its interior damp and redolent of old-fashioned Lemon Drizzle Cake. This is both a tea-time cake and a dinner party dessert, and is delicious served with very cold whipped cream, creme fraiche, Greek yoghurt, or, if you're feeling really naughty, clotted cream. I have also seen a version of this recipe with the Italian lemon liqueur Limoncello in the syrup, which I am sure would give it a deliciously intensely lemony kick. Had I not greedily drunk all the Limoncello I brought back from my trip to Italy in September, I would have used it....

This recipe yields a good-sized cake. It fed 4 generously last night, and there is still at least another 4 servings left. So, let's say it serves 8!

Oven 180C. Line and grease a 23 cm diameter springform cake tin.


200g ground almonds
100g polenta
200g caster sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
200g soft butter
3 eggs
zest of 2 lemons

Drizzle:
juice of (the same) 2 lemons
125g icing sugar

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. (I did this in my Kitchenaid, with the flat paddle attachment.) Mix the dry ingredients together and beat some of this into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by one egg. Repeat the procedure until all the eggs are beaten in. Add the lemon zest. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 35 mins, or until the top is golden brown and springy.

While the cake is cooking, make the syrup by bringing the lemon-sugar mixture to the boil and allowing it to reduce slightly. When the cake is done, pierce it with a piece of spaghetti or a fine skewer, and pour the drizzle liquid over. Don't worry if it puddles in the middle - it will gradually soak through, creating a lovely damp centre. When all the liquid has been absorbed, dust with icing sugar.

Having made and sampled this cake, I think it would make a very nice alternative to the dread Christmas pudding (which I detest). There's something about the lemon-almond flavour that is quite festive, redolent of marzipan and Christmassy spiced drinks.

PS It's almost more delicious eaten the day after it's made. Keep it wrapped in foil.

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