Yes, I know I frequently tell you that I don’t bake cakes … or very rarely … but there’s a story here, I promise you. Well, two stories … and about the same cake. I’ve written about the lovely times I’ve had visiting my friends Linda and George in Spain. A number of times Linda has told me that she often bakes ‘your polenta cake’. My polenta cake?!! Yes, she reminded me. I’d made it for a dinner they’d come to before they moved to Spain nine years ago and she’d liked it so much she’d asked for the recipe. Mmm. Some thought led me to decide it had to be the one in Tamasin Day-Lewis’s Simply the Best because I’m pretty sure it’s the only polenta cake I’ve ever made. And I do remember it being excellent (it is, indeed, a very lovely book full of wonderful recipes), so why hadn’t I made it again? Then, just a few weeks ago, while I was staying with them again, Linda served this cake for dessert one evening and it was so wonderful I thought: I must make this cake again.
Now a second story joins the first: not long after returning home from Spain my daughter was down from Birmingham. It’s her birthday at the end of this month and it has become a norm in recent years for her to have two birthday parties – one in Birmingham and one in London. When the subject of cakes came up for the London party – I may rarely make cakes but I always make them for family birthdays – she surprised me by suggesting a lemon drizzle cake. My standard birthday cake (more a pudding really) for years has been Torta Caprese. Why were we talking something completely different? Because the only cakes I make are more pudding cakes, and I felt slightly uncertain of my ability to cook a good lemon drizzle cake. But instantly, into my head, came the Lemon Polenta Cake. Why didn’t I make that, I suggested and told her Story No.1. Well, the birthday cake decision is not yet settled but with Jonathan and Lyndsey coming round for supper tonight I decided to make the cake anyway. And, just as it apparently was nine years ago, and just as it was at Linda’s a few weeks ago, it was really very, very good.
You can’t mess around with cake recipes: baking is something that requires you stick to the recipe and measure ingredients out properly, but it was a fairly easy recipe to divide into two. Much as I loved it, with only three of us for supper, a cake for 12 was going to be excessive.
I preheated the oven to 160C/140 Fan and lined the base of an 8 inch/2-cm springform cake tin and buttered the sides. Tamasin uses a 9 inch/22cm tin for the full recipe but working out the right size tin for half was beyond my baking skills and anyway, I only had the choice of two sizes so this one would have to do.
Beat 6oz soft unsalted butter with 6oz golden caster sugar till light and fluffy. Stir in 6oz ground almonds and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Now beat in 2 large eggs, one at a time. Add the zest of one and a half lemons and the juice of half a lemon.
Now fold in 4oz polenta, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Spoon into the cake tin and put in the oven. As Tamasin’s full cake took about an hour to bake, I decided to check on mine after 30 minutes, but it wasn’t quite done. It took another 10 minutes.
Tamasin serves her with Caramel Ice Cream – which reminded me I had some homemade cinnamon ice cream in the freezer. Cinnamon and lemon? I wasn’t sure but decided it would probably be fine. I served it with a little creamy Greek yogurt too.
It was seriously good. The cake had smelled wonderful while baking and the gorgeous promise was fulfilled. It was delightfully lemony and the polenta gives it a lovely grainy texture while the almonds make it deliciously moist. And really, in the end, I’d made another dessert cake … not a tea cake. But I promise, Nicola, if you really want a lemon drizzle cake, I will try!