Orange and Amaretto Polenta Cake

Whenever I go to the Italian café in my town, I always ask for a piece of their Orange Polenta Cake, which is loaf-shaped and cut into a slice, rather than round. It is also the most deliciously light, moist and more-ish cake I have eaten. I have never managed to replicate it at home, and their recipe is a closely-guarded secret. So, when I came across a Lemon Polenta Cake in Nigella’s book, Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home, I was more than a little excited.

I made Nigella’s recipe and followed it to the letter. It was really good. Lemony and most defintely light, perfect for a spring teatime treat.  Using polenta and ground almonds in place of flour gives the cake a wonderful crumbly texture and pouring a warm syrup over the top means that the crumbs absorb all the liquid, adding sweetness to the sharpness of the lemons. 
Nigella describes it as an “Anglo-Italian amalgam”, on the basis that the round shape of the cake reminds her of cakes in Italian patisserie windows (and, of course, using polenta in a cake is most definitely Italian) but she ‘borrows’ the syrup from the English teatime classic Lemon Drizzle Cake as she finds some Italian cakes can be a little dry.
In order to try and replicate the beloved Orange Polenta Cake I love, I took my inspiration from Nigella’s recipe, using orange zest and juice in place of lemons, adding a teaspoon on Valencian orange essence for an extra kick and by adding a couple of tablespoons of Amaretto, both to the cake mixture and to the orange syrup. 
If you want to be really naughty, serve this, as I did, with mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) flavoured with orange zest and Amaretto. I found that there was quite a lot of syrup and that a little bit could be taken out to whisk into some mascarpone.

Note – the Amaretto content makes this cake unsuitable for children, but that does mean more for the adults! If you were sticking to Nigella’s Lemon recipe, you could always add a splash or two of Italian Limoncello…

It worked. It was delicious. It will be made again!

Orange & Amaretto Polenta Cake
Adapted from ‘Lemon Polenta Cake’ by Nigella Lawson (Kitchen)

For the cake:
200g unsalted butter, plus a small amount to grease the tin
200g caster sugar
200g ground almonds
100g fine ground polenta
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs
1 teaspoon Valencian orange extract
1 tablespoon/15 ml Amaretto liqueur
For the syrup:
Juice of one orange
2 tablespoons/15 ml Amaretto liqueur
125g icing sugar
For the Mascarpone Cream:
Save some of the syrup (around 30 mls) and whisk into 150g marsarpone
1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius.
2. Line the bottom of a 23cm springform tin with baking paper and spread a little butter around the edges too for good measure.
3. Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat well until light, pale and fluffy. I used a stand mixer, but an electric whisk or wooden spoon would be fine.
4. Mix the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder together and in a separate bowl lightly mix your eggs. Still beating, add these to the butter and sugar, alternating as you go along.
5. Add in the orange zest, orange essence and Amaretto, if using, and mix well.
6. Tip the mixture into your tin and bake in the oven for around 40 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean when it’s ready.
7. While the cake is cooking, make the syrup by boiling the orange juice, Amaretto and icing sugar in a pan just for a minute or so until the icing sugar melts.
8. Once the cake is cooked, prick the top of the cake all over with a toothpick and while it is still in its tin, pour the syrup over the top (saving a bit for the mascarpone cream if you are making it).
9. Once the cake has cooled down, take it out of its tin. If it isn’t eaten in one sitting it will keep well in an airtight container for a few days.

I’m sending my post over to Sarah at Maison Cupcake, for my second bite of the cherry in this month’s Italian-themed ‘Forever Nigella’ competition – Ciao Italia!

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  5. this sounds lovely….
    i can feel a baking day coming on….

    1. Thank you Sylvan for your comment x

  6. Fabulicious Food says:

    >Thank you Jaqueline, it is lovely and light but yet has lots of flavour.

    Yes Sarah, it would be perfect for a Mother's Day tea, hadn't thought that far ahead! I haven't got Harry's book but I do like her recipes too. Looking forwward to next month's challenge!

  7. Sarah, Maison Cupcake says:

    >This pictures look so elegant, it's a lovely tea party for Mother's Day. I have made a similar polenta cake from a Harry Eastwood Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache recipe but I didn't realise Nigella had done one as well. Thanks so much for submitting to Forever Nigella 3. Ciao! x

  8. Jacqueline says:

    >What a gorgeous cake and stunning photos. The cake looks as light as air 🙂

  9. Fabulicious Food says:

    >Ah thank you, all credit to Nigella, I just played around with the flavours, especially as we love Amaretto in our house! So glad it was tasty…long run needed today!

  10. J. Valentine says:

    >I just posted a very long long message. (maybe you can't do that) Anyway, my grandmother- Josephine MaryRose Spino Denayer would have loved this receipe. Amazing. I will have to tell you in person all the lovely things I just said about this cake. But this cake recipe needs to be in restaurants. No one will ever be able to compete against this one… simply brilliant!

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