RECIPE AND PHOTOS PAOLA THOMAS
This month’s cake—an adaption of a traditional Italian torta di polenta—celebrates the citrus fruits and nuts of winter, while incorporating rhubarb as the first welcome harbinger of spring. This is not a fancy-pants, special-occasion cake, all dressed up and ready for the ball, but in taste and texture, it might be my favorite of all the cakes we’ve developed this past year.
This is the perfect companion on a dreary afternoon, when you’re curled up with a good book and a mug of tea. Its damp, buttery richness is offset by tart rhubarb, the tang of orange, and the pleasing texture of polenta. Sometimes the magic is all in the eating.
If spring has not yet sprung in your part of the world, you can easily use frozen rhubarb. Meyer lemons would also make a wonderful substitute for the oranges. Since the batter is based on almond flour and polenta, this cake is naturally gluten-free, but that’s not the main reason you’ll want to make it.
Serves: 8–10 | start to finish: 2 hours and 30 minutes (active time: 50 minutes)
2 cups rhubarb, fresh or frozen, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons turbinado or demerara sugar (granulated sugar would also work here)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Approximately 1 teaspoon flour or gluten-free flour blend for coating the pan
1 cup baker’s sugar (you may use granulated sugar if you prefer)
2 cups almond flour
3 extra-large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Juice of half an orange
Zest of two oranges
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon polenta or grits
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cardamom pods or 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
Approximately 2 tablespoons sliced almonds to decorate
About an hour before you want to make the cake, put the rhubarb in a small bowl and sprinkle with turbinado or demerara sugar. (I like the more caramelized taste of demerara sugar, but it’s not always easy to find.) Set aside until the sugar is all dissolved.
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Using the wrappers from the butter, grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan and cut a circle of parchment paper to line the bottom. A springform pan will make it easier to remove the cake. If you don’t have one, cut two long strips of parchment paper and place them crosswise at the bottom of the pan, underneath the parchment circle, with the excess strips folded over the sides of the pan. You can use these “handles” to lift out the cake.
Using a stand or hand-held mixer, beat the softened butter and sugar together until pale, light, and fluffy (about 4 minutes at a medium speed). Stir in the almond flour, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the batter is airy and soft.
With a large spoon, fold in the vanilla extract, orange juice, and zest. Add polenta, baking powder, and salt, still folding gently.
If using whole cardamom, crack the pods, remove the seeds, and crush the seeds using a pestle and mortar (if using ground cardamom, you can skip this step). Fold the cardamom into the batter until evenly distributed.
Spoon the batter, which should be a mousse-like consistency, into the prepared pan and smooth it out to the edges with a spatula.
Take the marinated rhubarb pieces out of their syrup and drain on a paper towel. Press the rhubarb into the cake batter and scatter the sliced almonds over the top. Some of the rhubarb pieces will sink during baking, so you will end up with a rhubarb-studded cake.
Set the prepared cake pan on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven 50–60 minutes. The cake should be firmly set in the middle and a deep golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let sit 5–10 minutes, until the cake shrinks away from the sides. Then remove from the pan and leave to cool on a wire rack.
Note: The leftover syrup at the bottom of the rhubarb bowl is delicious on yogurt or ice cream, or you can pour it over a slice of the cake just before serving.
vegetarian • gluten-free (if using gluten-free flour to coat the baking pan)