Lemon polenta cake is one of my all-time favourites. I have been cooking this recipe since 1996 when I discovered it in Books for Cooks Cook Book 2 – a delightful collection of the recipes they cooked that year in the cafe of this excellent bookshop. I have linked to Amazon so you can see the book, but if you want to buy it please buy it direct from the bookshop.
The cake recipe comes originally from The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. It produces a handsome 24cm cake which works perfectly as a dinner party dessert with raspberries and crème fraîche. However, in my small household, it is too big to make regularly, so I have taken to cutting down the quantities to make either a 20cm or 15cm cake.
Today I was thinking about what to make for a picnic lunch during a planned walk on the London Loop tomorrow and realised that the same mixture would work brilliantly cooked in cupcake cases. I was given some lovely silicone cases (a bit like these) which are lovely colours and re-usable, and would also protect the cakes in transport. I hesitated about calling these cupcakes, as I don’t like the ones you buy heaped with sweet butter icing, and these cakes emphatically do not have or need any icing at all!
The quantites below will give enough for either one 20cm cake, a 15cm cake and six cupcakes (as I did) or twelve small cupcakes. You could, of course, bake the cupcakes directly in a muffin tin, providing you butter and flour the pan thoroughly (and I would probably put circles of greaseproof in the bottom of each hole too – a fiddle, but better than having to dig your cakes out in pieces).
160g softened butter
160g caster sugar
160g ground almonds
scant tsp vanilla essence
grated zest of 1½ lemons
3 tbsps lemon juice (less than 1 lemon)
scant tsp baking powder
Heat the oven to 160 C/Fan 140 C/Gas 3. Butter and flour your cake tin (using rice flour if you want to be totally gluten-free). I did this with the silicone cases too, but it would obviously not be necessary if you are using paper cases. Arrange the cupcake cases in a muffin tin. Zest and juice the lemons.
Beat the butter until it becomes pale and soft, then pour in the caster sugar and beat until light and creamy. I do all of this in the mixer, which makes it really quick. Stir in the almonds and vanilla essence. Beat one egg, add and beat the mixture thoroughly, then add the next one in the same way. Fold in the lemon zest and juice, polenta, baking powder and salt.
Put a heaped dessertspoon of the mixture into each cupcake case (and/or spoon the remaining mixture into your prepared cake tin) and put into the oven. Bake the cupcakes for 45 mins and the cake for 50 or even 55 minutes until it is golden-brown. Allow the cakes to cool in the tin. If un-moulding a cake from its tin, run a knife around it beforehand as it can be crumbly.
While it doesn’t need any adornment – it is particularly nice with mid-morning coffee just as it is – but it does go awfully well with raspberries too….