Lemon Polenta Cake with Amaretto Syrup

lemon polenta cake

I never consciously intended to put a lot of gluten free recipes on this blog, but given that my partner is on a gluten free diet, inevitably a lot of them come up.  I’ve mentioned before the awful commercially produced gluten free versions of wheat products, and I think there is something to be said for avoiding these duplicates and just incorporates the best food available that fits within the dietary requirements.  In fact, this could be extended to any diet – why would a vegetarian want to eat a plastic sausage when there are so many fantastic vegetables available all year round? I once ate a nut replica of cheese in a vegan restaurant – at first it was quite a novelty, but when they brought out an entire ‘cheese’ course with three nutty pasty varieties, I was tempted to hide it in a fellow diners handbag…

So this is a recipe that is gluten free, but has not been adapted – it has always been gluten free.  There are a variety of recipes around the web for lemon polenta cake, which is a traditional italian recipe, but all generally involve the same quantities of butter, caster sugar and ground almonds (around 200-250g), half as much polenta (100g), 3 eggs, baking powder and a lemon syrup poured over the cake at the end.  Variations are plentiful – Nigella keeps it simple and includes syrup, River Cafe double the size (with a touch of vanilla and salt) and puts the lemon in the cake instead of as a syrup, Nigel Slater halves the size (emphasis on a light and fluffy texture) and fills with cream, others increase the lemonyness to the bounds of decency and load it with alcohol.  I’ve tried to take a little something from all of them, and include a little twist of my own – Amaretto liquor, which brings out the sweet almond flavour (especially if you are using freshly ground almonds).

Ingredients

200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
200g ground almonds (if you have the time and inclination, you would benefit from grinding your own using blanched almonds)
100g fine polenta (if you can only get coarse, you could grind it finer in a clean coffee grinder or food processor)
1 tsp baking powder (gluten free, of course)
zest of 2 lemons (also juice for syrup)
3 eggs
a few drops of lemon extract
pinch of salt

Syrup

juice of 2 lemons
4 tbsp Amaretto (I use Lazzaroni Amaretto, which is flavoured by soaking with Amaretti biscotti, also gluten free)
125g icing sugar

  1. Line the base of a 23cm springform cake tin with baking parchment and grease the sides with butter.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 C/gas mark 4.
  3. Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and creamy.
  4. Combine the almonds, polenta, lemon zest and baking powder and add gradually alternating with an egg, and beating thoroughly.  If you want a lighter texture, you can separate out the yolks and whites, add the yolks only at this stage, then whip the whites separately until not quite stiff and fold in at the end.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, then hold the side and tap the underside to level out the mixture.
  6. Bake for around 40 minutes – the cake will shrink away from the edge when it is done.  Cool in the tin on a wire rack.
  7. Make the syrup by warming the icing sugar, lemon juice and amaretto together until clear.
  8. Prick the cake all over with a skewer or cake tester, then pour over the syrup and leave to cool.
  9. Remove the cake from the tin then turn upside down onto a plate (so all the holes are at the bottom and the syrup will start to move back through the cake).
  10. Serve with clotted cream and grated lemon zest.

Tips & Confessions

– I didn’t separate out the yolks and whites – it was still light and fluffy (I did beat everything quite thoroughly though).
– I couldn’t get fine polenta, and I didn’t grind it.  There was no discernible grittiness, and tasted great.
– 4tbsp of Amaretto is a guess, I think I just chugged the bottle into the mix a few times, try more or less to taste.

Chargrilled Tuscan Lamb

Chargrilled Tuscan Lamb

Tradition dictates that barbecuing is a summer sport, but the method is ideally suited to cooking throughout the year.  Admittedly, you’re unlikely to get much success from an open barbecue in the driving rain, but a kettle bbq can account for most weather conditions, and effectively gives you an entire additional oven for cooking in.  Believe it or not, our Christmas lunch joints have been cooked on the barbecue for three years running now.

This is a beautiful, simple recipe that is ideally done over charcoal, but also works under a grill (broiler for our American friends).  It is a variation on a recipe from Maxine Clark’s fantastic book ‘Flavours of Tuscany’, which gives a range of traditional Tuscan recipes with an exciting modern twist.  Maxine is a cooking school teacher in Tuscany, so she knows her stuff.

Ingredients

2 kg leg of lamb
4 crushed garlic cloves
4 tbsp chopped rosemary
200 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt + pepper

to serve:
chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley and good extra virgin olive oil

– Ask your butcher to bone and butterfly the lamb, or do it yourself by cutting towards the bone where it is closest to the skin, then trimming closely around the bone until you can remove it.

– The meat should lie fairly flat – place it skin side down and score through any areas that are thicker to even out the thickness, and remove excess fat.

– Mix all other ingredients together except for the salt and pepper and rub into the cut side of the meat.  Season with pepper only:

marinading lamb– Leave to marinate for a minimum of 1 hour or ideally overnight. Remove from the marinade and reserve any left over marinade for basting.

– If you have one, put the lamb into a square grill rack, which should allow for easier turning and control flare-ups:

grilling lamb

– Cook for around 30-40 min each side, basting every so often and turning regularly to ensure the surface does not burn.

– Once cooked, season with salt and rest in a warm place before slicing, then dress with the chopped parsley and olive oil.

Tips

– The picture above is actually a smaller leg of lamb than in the recipe (about 850g boned), so I just halved all the quantities and cooked for around 15 minutes each side.

– You will need to control flare ups if you’re cooking on an open barbecue – keep turning the meet and move it off the heat if the flames are out of control.  On a kettle barbecue, cook over direct heat with the lid on and all vents open, turning occasionally.

– Although I’ve given cooking timing guides above (which produce medium done meat), it is best to get familiar with the feeling of meat as the temperature of your barbecue could vary – have a look at this link.