Dinner with Friends
and Polenta Cake
This post starts with polenta. Actually, in our culture, many things kind of start with polenta. Polenta is made out of cornmeal, water and a little bit of salt; it is very easy and cheap to make, which is why it was an obvious choice for the hard working peasants on their lunch break during field work. My grandmother used to make sweet bread out of it, but don’t let the name fool you, it wasn’t dessert; it was well, sweet bread, served as an accompaniment for savoury dishes.
Polenta has come a long way over the years, it has developed from austerity to elegance, and nowadays it can easily be found listed in menus in fine restaurants all over the world, served as part of myriads of elegant dishes, be it paired with fine cheese or truffles or perhaps a nice tomato reduction. I like to grill it after it’s completely cooled and eat it up with a nice side dish of pan-fried mushrooms, topped with some Parmesan shavings.
Needless to say, it never really occured to me to use cornmeal in desserts; that is until last week, when I heard the phrase “lemon polenta cake” being thrown around in the 2001 movie, “Dinner With Friends”.
If you haven’t watched this already, the movie weaves itself around the friendship of two married couples that, well, on a lot of occasions, eat together. The movie speaks of late thirtysomething angst and crisis, all intertwined with quite a bit of passion for food. In the midst of meltdowns, debates, discussions and fights, there is this one dish that shines through, this sweet beacon of delight that glimmers even through the roughest of times: the lemon polenta cake. In the movie, the recipe is brought from Italy and it is advertised as a delicious cake with surprisingly enough, no white flour. And for 2001, gluten-freedom is kind of surprising.
A whole week after watching this movie, I really could not take my mind off that lemon polenta cake, it sounded so yellowishly splendid, I knew I had to make it. After a bit of research and a tweak here and there, I ended up adjusting Nigella’s recipe and came up with a version that doesn’t use refined sugar and that was just as great as the movie had me imagining it; it’s also very easy to make and yes, gluten-free.
Make this cake, share it with your friends, have them over for dinner or wrap some up and take it to them. They’ll love it.
For the Polenta Cake
200gr/1¾ unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
200gr/1 cup organic granulated sugar or any type of sugar
200gr/2 cups almond meal
100gr/1 cup fine polenta
3 large free-range eggs
Zest from two lemons
For the syrup
Juice from two lemons
100gr/3/4 cup honey
Preheat your oven to 180C/350F. Butter a 20cm/9in springform pan and line with baking paper. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with the aid of a hand-held mixer, beat the butter and the sugar until light and creamy. In a bowl, mix together the almond meal and the polenta. Incorporate 1/4 of this mixture in the butter cream, followed by one egg, beating well after each addition. Continue like this until you have mixed in everything, finishing with the almond meal and polenta mixture. Next, add the lemon zest and incorporate with a spatula. Transfer to your springform pan, level with a spatula and pop in the oven for around 40 minutes. You might need to cover with tinfoil after the first 15-20 minutes, if the top is browning too quickly. The cake is done when it pulls from the sides of the tin, even if it’s still a bit wobbly in the centre.
To make the syrup, mix the juice and the honey in a small saucepan set over medium heat until the honey has melted completely. After removing the cake from the oven, leave in the springform pan, prick cake all over with a toothpick and pour the syrup over. Take out of the tin when it is completely cooled.