We had some friends over for dinner this weekend, and the main course included Grilled Halibut with Lemon and Fresh Oregano, Mashed Potatoes, and Fennel Slaw. I felt that a chocolate dessert would overpower the delicate winter flavors, so I sought out a brighter finale. I’ve seen Giada De Laurentiis and Lidia Bastiannich make a version of this golden Italian cake, but this recipe comes from Martha Stewart.
The cake takes on a flaxen color and crunchy bite from polenta, the Italian name for cornmeal. Depending on the variety, it can be coarse or finely ground. For our purposes, it must be finely ground. If the package doesn’t specify, most likely it is medium ground. If your polenta is medium ground, give it a spin in the food processor. Ground almonds also contribute to the cake’s rich density, and help to keep it moist. Fresh orange juice brightens the flavor profile, and I imagine lemon would be just as nice.
Polenta Almond Cake
Makes one 8-inch cake
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
1/2 cup finely ground polenta
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tblsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
12 tblsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus 2 tblsp melted, for pan
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
3 large eggs, room temperature
3 tblsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
confectioner’s sugar, for presentation
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Spread sliced almonds in a single layer on a small baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a shallow bowl, set aside to cool. In the bowl of a food processor, finely grind whole almonds, set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, polenta, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Pour melted butter into an 8-by-2-inch round cake pan, swirling to coat the bottom and brushing up the sides. Sprinkle with sugar and toasted sliced almonds.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar, and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating to combine after every addition. Beat in orange juice and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients, slowly beating until just combined.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with an offset spatula. Bake until a cake tester (or toothpick) inserted into the center comes our clean, about 45 minutes. Transfer baking pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Remove cake from pan, and cool completely. When completely cool, use a small mesh strainer to sift confectioner’s sugar over the top. Serve with berries or fresh fruit.