I’m thinking that this Polenta Cake might actually be good for you. Or, if that’s a stretch I could put it another way, that it might not be all that bad for you. Polenta (cornmeal), less flour and sugar than other cake recipes, almonds, no butter, no frosting . . . see where I’m going with this. If you believe in this theory, and I absolutely do, then you abandon guilt and let yourself eat berries and have some cake too.
I love it when I come up with an idea that’s ridiculous, but just too tempting to discount, like inventing ways for cake to be good for you. Plus, remember the fruit, which is the whole point: that this cake is a vehicle for officially designated super food, BERRIES. Gotcha. Make the cake and pile on the berries. You’ll be fine.
And this is the moment for our local, uniquely delicious strawberries, not the plump, tasteless variety that are picked early, bred to be transportable and have had just a little too much – how can I put this delicately? – plastic surgery. Our own strawberry patch, and to call it that is a stretch, has maybe two dozen berries each year. One of them, pictured below, will surely have been devoured by our backyard squirrel, Obese Buddy we call him, before this is even published. We’re lucky if we get a handful. We could take our strawberry patch a lot more seriously. Blueberries, on the other hand, are on their way and we’ll have a good harvest again this year. Three plants provide a hefty cup or more each day for 5 or 6 weeks. Fruit of any kind, sliced and juicy, is the perfect companion for the Polenta Cake.
Orange Almond Polenta Cake Recipe
With berries or not, this is a darn good cake. Recipe from Moosewood Restaurant’s Simple Suppers.
Ingredients: 1/3 C cornmeal or polenta/ 2/3 C unbleached white flour/2 t baking powder/ 1/2 t salt/ 1 1/2 C almonds/ 3/4 C sugar (I used 1/2 C)/ Juice and zest of 1 orange/ 1/2 C vegetable oil/ 2 eggs/ 1/2 C water/ confectioner’s sugar
The difference between polenta and cornmeal is in the grind. Polenta is coarser. There’s definitely a bite to this cake, a slight crunch, which I like. Substitute polenta for a more finely ground cornmeal if you prefer.
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees, lightly oil and flour a 9″ cake pan/ Sift cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl/ Whirl almonds and sugar together in a food processor until almonds are finely ground/ Add flour mixture to the sugar and almond mixture, process briefly to mix/ Grate orange (about 1 T) and juice the orange (about 1/3 C) and add to dry ingredients along with eggs, oil and water/ Process for 15 or 20 seconds, scrape the sides and whirl again just briefly/ This is a thin batter/ Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40- 45 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean when tested. Ovens vary so check after 35 minutes./ Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool/ After 30 minutes or so, carefully loosen edges, remove from the pan and return to rack for cooling. (If you line cake pan with parchment before baking removal is a snap.)/ After the cake is completely cooled, dust with powdered sugar if you like.
Using a food processor this is ready for the oven in about 10 minutes. Without a food processor, proceed by hand or with a mixer. Finely ground almonds are an important ingredient and that could be accomplished in some blenders, a coffee grinder, or by hand.
Polenta Cake becomes berried treasure with its frosting of strawberries, raspberries, marion, black and blueberries, gooseberries, cherries, peaches . . . many a fruit will enjoy a ride on this cake. Maybe a spoonful of whipped cream too. Bake it and then wrap it, freeze it, use it whenever there are berries on the table, with a drizzle of local honey or with your own homemade berry jam. Your friendly, easygoing cake-next-door cake.
Father’s Day. I’m remembering my Dad, who showed me how to cook, to play and to laugh hard, to do the right thing even when it’s the tough choice. It came naturally for him. When my brother and I laugh so hard we cry, we gratefully remember Dad. For fathers and surrogate fathers, such gifts add immeasurably to our lives as children and adults. Thank you.