Orange, almond and polenta cake

I love slightly unusual cakes – my pistachio and walnut crumbly cake and gingerbread cake with blood orange syrup are two examples of my leaning towards not-too-sweet, spiced, no-icing cakes that are better suited to grown-ups than the under eights in your household. And this cake is another in that category. There is texture from the polenta, spice with the inclusion of star anise in the syrup and beautiful perfume from a judicious sprinkling of orange blossom water. But it is a simple cake to make, and would be a wonderful finish to dinner with friends, served with some Greek yoghurt or a dollop of cream.

Serves 8-10

  • 200 g butter, at room temperature
  • 200 g demerara sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100 g fine polenta
  • zest of 2 large oranges
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water*
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon icing sugar, for decoration

Orange and star anise syrup

  • 250 ml orange juice
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
  • 1 small star anise

Preheat oven to 165 C. Lightly grease a 22 cm diameter springform tin and line the base with silicon paper. In a medium sized bowl beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. The sugar will not completely dissolve, as the crystals are quite large. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Add the almonds, polenta and orange zest and beat for 1 minute. Finally, add the orange blossom water and baking powder and beat for another minute, making sure they are well incorporated. Turn the batter into the tin and carefully spread out evenly with a flat bladed knife. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the cake springs back lightly when gently pressed with your fingertips. It should be golden and evenly risen. Carefully remove from the tin and turn onto a serving plate. Cool to room temperature.

To make the syrup place the orange and lemon juice in a small saucepan with the sugar, orange blossom water and star anise. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When ready to serve, dust one half of the cake with icing sugar. Two choices now – serve the cake and pass the syrup around for people to pour on their own slice, or dramatically pour the syrup over the whole cake at the table and then serve individual slices…. I’m firmly in the pour-over-the-cake-then-serve camp.

The cake will keep for 2 – 3 days stored in an airtight container. Don’t store in the refrigerator, and if the weather is very humid, just forget the diet and eat it on the day it is made.

*Orange blossom water has been a traditional ingredient used often in North African as well as Middle Eastern cooking. Orange blossom water can be purchased from good delicatessens or a Middle Eastern supermarket. If it is unavailable you can leave out, but it adds something special to the cake. Be very careful not too use too much, as it is quite strong, and is only used for perfume, not flavour.