Make Ahead

Almond, polenta & lemon cake with blackberry compote

September  1, 2013
1 Ratings
  • Serves 4-6
Author Notes

Speak to any seasoned blackberry picker and they'll tell you they have a favourite spot they return to year after year. That first picking is invested with more hope than expectation. Will the fruit be plump or seedy? Fit for a blackberry and apple pie or destined to be sieved for a fruit jelly? My first pickings this year proved to be packed with juice, making the seeds barely noticeable. Half of the berries were the basis for a classic apple and blackberry crumble. The rest I warmed with a little sugar to enjoy as a compote which would be good, I thought, with a little almond 'something'. I had almonds; I had polenta; and I had lemons. With those ingredients, The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray & Ruth Rogers was the first book I reached for. Their recipe for Torta di Polenta, Mandorle e Limone is the basis for the recipe below.

Not wanting a cake as large as 30cm (12 inches), I cut down the recipe to suit a 17cm (7 inch) x 6cm (2.5 inch) round tin. It produced a beautifully light cake which is also gluten-free. I found the lemon didn't come through quite enough for me so I increased the amount of lemon zest recommended. I should mention the finished cake is fairly fragile so take extra care to prepare the tin. The cake keeps well for a couple of days but it will lose its crunch. —Evie

What You'll Need
  • Almond, polenta & lemon Cake
  • 6 ounces unsalted butter
  • 6 ounces sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 ounces almonds, skinned and ground or use ready ground
  • half teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • Juice of half lemon
  • 3 ounces polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal)
  • half teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • Blackberry compote
  • 12 ounces Blackberries
  • 1-2 ounces powdered sugar (depending on sweetness of berries)
  1. Preheat oven 170C (fan 150C)/Gas 3.
  2. Lightly butter the cake tin and dust with polenta.
  3. Cream the butter well with the caster sugar.
  4. Add the ground almonds and vanilla and mix briefly
  5. Gradually beat in the eggs.
  6. Gently fold in the lemon zest and juice, followed by the polenta, baking powder and salt.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out fairly clean (under-cooked is better than over-cooked). Leave to cool in the tin before turning out.
  8. While the cake is cooking, put the blackberries in a heavy-bottomed pan with no more than 1 tablespoon of water. Heat just until the juices flow freely.
  9. Remove from the heat and mix in 1oz of icing sugar, adding more if the compote is too tart.
  10. Spoon a little compote alongside a slice of cake. I don't think it needs the addition of cream but you might.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Evie
  • Mi Budare
    Mi Budare
  • sarah bodney
    sarah bodney
  • Greenstuff
  • Ginny Ickle
    Ginny Ickle

10 Reviews

JRG April 2, 2019
Oh dear. I SO wanted this recipe to be a success. But as other have noted this is not a cake that wants to come out the pan, even if lined(as I tried) and cooled completely (yes, I did that too.) Recommend a spring-form pan if you are going to make this. But unless you like gritty cake, you might skip this one. I thought perhaps the polenta might soften as it cooked in the batter, but no. Still picking it out of my teeth! Might try again but use ordinary corn meal, not polenta which is too coarse.

Just curious as to how anyone knew what size pan to use? I couldn't find that info in the recipe, only in the reviews. An 8 inch round seems to be right (but, as noted, spring-form).

Applause, however, for gluten free. I don't need that but have plenty of friends who do....
raker September 15, 2016
This one didn't work for me. For starters, 170C? Caster sugar? A 7-inch cake tin? Not bloody likely.

I used an 8-inch cake pan, and without a paper lining the cake fused to the pan. By the time it came out it was a mess of cake crumbs. We ate some anyway. The lemon flavor was nice, and although I sometimes like the taste and texture of cornmeal in sweets, not this time. Maybe if the cornmeal were finer. Polenta is too coarse.
Evie September 28, 2016
So sorry this didn't work for you Raker. Not sure why the tin size is a problem but I do have some very old tins so maybe that size isn't out there any more. As I mentioned the cake is quite a fragile mix so I think your suggestion of lining the tin is a good one, but it doesn't sound like this one is for you. Thanks for your comments anyway.
Evie September 4, 2013
That's good to hear!
Mi B. September 4, 2013
I will put this one on my baking list!
sarah B. September 2, 2013
Sooo, do you think I could make this with masa harina, or even quinoa in place of the "polenta" which I assume is coarsely ground cornmeal? And, gulp, could I use frozen blackberries (of which I just happen to have a HUGE bag) to make the compot?
Evie September 2, 2013
Hi Sarah, You're right, coarsely ground cornmeal is the same as polenta. I've got to remember my American friends have different names for some ingredients and I'm going to make that clear on the recipe right now. Thanks. I think masa harina is probably too finely ground but maybe worth a try. Quinoa I feel would be too bulky to work. Nothing at all wrong with using frozen blackberries though the compote is likely to be more watery. To get over this, once cooked and sugar added, you could sieve out the fruit and boil down the syrup to thicken it before cooling and adding back to the fruit.
Ginny I. July 31, 2015
I've done ok with masa haring; the coarseness of the almonds seems to make up for it.
Greenstuff September 1, 2013
Nice! I haven't seen the River Cafe recipe, but this one will be perfect for my berry-picking family and my ever-growing list of gluten-free friends.
Evie September 1, 2013
Thanks Chris. Wish I could take more credit for myself on this one. Hope you like it as much as I do.