In Northern Italy, cornflour is traditionally used to make POLENTA. Polenta has its roots in peasant cuisine, and is made using only three ingredients: corn flour, water and salt. It has a rich yellow, yolk-like colour, and a slightly sweet flavour. Polenta can be cooked to be creamy and thick, or allowed to set and then sliced. Serve it instead of pasta, rice or potatoes. Polenta is considered to be one of the oldest recipes in history, dating as far back as the ancient Sumerians. Its roots lie in being the pane dei poveri – “the bread of the poor” – which means that it was the key dish that fed the peasants for centuries.
Uncooked polenta makes a delicious addition or gluten-free alternative to flour in cakes, biscuits and pastries. Cakes made with polenta tend to be moist and dense with a pleasantly grainy texture. I like to use cornflour for baking and one of my favourite recipes is the ORANGE and POLENTA CAKE. I have made this cake for years and every time my family can’t get enough of it!
- 250 g butter
- 250 g caster sugar (less 100 g for the glaze)
- 4 eggs
- 140 g cornflour
- 200 g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- zest and juice of 2 oranges (less 100ml juice for the glaze))
Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Line the base and sides of a round 23cm cake tin with baking parchment. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly. Once the mixture is combined, add all the dry ingredients and the zest and juice after you have measured off 100ml for the glaze.
Transfer the mixture to the tin, spread evenly, then cook for about 45 mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack to cool. To make the glaze, put the juice and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for 5 mins, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
For the orange and polenta cake, I’d recommend a sweet sparkling Muscat, with flavours of apricot, nutmeg and orange. The bubbles, and a good minerality, soften the consistency of the polenta in the mouth. I like Tenuta Sant’Anna, produced with the Charmat method in Grevi del Friuli, in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, in the North West of Italy. It is inexpensive and easy to find, also online. It has a low alcohol content, which makes it perfect after a meal. It should be served cold, at 6-8 degrees