I’ve always maintained that the secret behind a great cake is a great recipe. Last week over coffee at an Italian cafe I shared a divine slice of lemon polenta cake for afternoon tea. Luxuriously moist and laden with ricotta, it was surprisingly light and bursting with the intense flavour of lemons. Made with almonds and finely ground polenta it’s also one of the nicest gluten free cakes I have tasted in a while.
And so I returned home to spend a pleasant afternoon browsing my cookbook collection. Over the years I have amassed quite an impressive array of titles, with a fair proportion focused on Italian regional cooking. There’s something strangely therapeutic about leisurely leafing through well loved cookbooks. All the happy food associations and memories, the scribbled annotations and notes accompanying the recipes; those tried and true and of course the occasional unmitigated kitchen disasters. It’s a voyage of discovery that is difficult to replicate with the modern day express solution of a quick Google search.
It didn’t take me too long to source the perfect Sicilian recipe. From Rose Gray and Ruth Roger’s The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook. With six eggs and the grated zest of six lemons it makes an enormous cake that keeps well and is ideal for sharing. Our cake lasted less than twenty four hours. Sitting on the kitchen bench it seemed to be a magnet for anyone passing by. Simply adorned with a dusting of icing sugar and a little more lemon zest it’s a good-looking, honest cake. No fuss. Just good Italian classic flavours.
Almond, Ricotta and Polenta Cake
From The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
For 10-12; makes 1 x 26 cm round cake
225g unsalted butter, softened, plus a little for the tin
250g blanched almonds ( I successfully substituted almond meal)
100g fine polenta (maize flour)
finely grated zest of 6 lemons
250g caster sugar
6 large free-range organic eggs, separated
300g fresh ricotta cheese
juice of 3 lemons
icing sugar, for dusting
PREHEAT the oven to 150 C. Butter a 26cm round cake tin and line it with greaseproof paper.
COARSELY chop the almonds in a food processor. Combine with the polenta flour and lemon zest.
BEAT the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer until pale and light. Add the egg yolks one by one, then add the almond mixture and fold together.
PUT the ricotta into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Add the lemon juice.
IN ANOTHER bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the almond mixture and finally stir in the ricotta.
SPOON the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes, until set. Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean. Leave in the tin to cool for 10 minutes before turning out.
DUST liberally with sifted icing sugar before serving.