A Classic Italian Tea Cake. The River Cafe Almond, Ricotta and Polenta Cake.

River  Cafe Almond, Ricotta and Polenta Cake

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.

River  Cafe Almond, Ricotta and Polenta

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.

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18 Responses to A Classic Italian Tea Cake. The River Cafe Almond, Ricotta and Polenta Cake.

  1. Jo Blogs says:

    That looks absolutely beautiful. An “accidentally gluten free” bake as I think of these styles of cake – by that I mean one which just happens to be suitable for Coeliacs, not one which is a “normal” recipe tweaked to be GF. I could almost convince myself this cake is healthy. We’ll just gloss over the butter and focus on all that fruit and fat burning gene turner on-er almond meal 😉

    • Well it does make a rather large cake which makes it a little easier to cope with the thought of all that butter. One of my earliest posts was for an orange and almond cake (also accidentally GF) that uses no butter or oil. Just whole oranges, almond meal, sugar and eggs. A Middle Eastern recipe. Come to think of it both cakes are very similar in texture and equally delicious but use very different techniques.

  2. ana74x says:

    I love the orange and almond cake you mentioned and it’s something we enjoy often, but this one looks divine. Might be just the thing to use the last few lemons on the tree.

  3. Linda Duffin says:

    Absolutely my favourite cake. Delicious.

    • I’d never had Lemon Polenta Cake with ricotta before. It’s amazing how moist and light it is. Still can’t believe its gluten free.

      • Linda Duffin says:

        I’m wondering if I can adapt that to a lovely recipe I saw by Stevie Parle in a UK newspaper this weekend – polenta cake using blood oranges, with sugar and sliced blood oranges put on the base of the pan before pouring in the mix – a sort of upside-down cake with a difference.It looked divine.

  4. We have lots of oranges, lemons and ricotta here in Sicily. This cake is divine! It’s time to go to bed here otherwise I would surely take a slice:)

  5. Wow, this recipe does indeed look wonderful –
    I’ve been experimenting with polenta and tried an orange cake – will be trying this next weekend, though!
    Here’s to experimenting with polenta and blogging about the results!
    Emma 🙂

  6. saucygander says:

    I also like “accidentally” gluten free cakes, because they taste best as they are. This looks divine, and River Cafe books are the best!

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