Lemon and “polenta” cake: summer sun on a plate.

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The first heat wave of the year has finally found Finland too. It is supposed to last more or less the time it will take you to go through this post but one hopes it won’t be the last one. Whatever people may say about Finnish weather summer is actually quite lovely even if not constant or very hot.

When I was in Italy, especially when I was living in the city, I was used to go through summer in a sort of trance status from mid May to the end of August due to the sleepless nights spent in front of the fan. Things changed when I moved to the UK where Summer sometimes is a sort of ephemeral and abstract concept, you can be in the middle of August and feel like it is November, but hey oh, I could actually sleep and be a normal person for all the 12 months in the year so I never cared too much. So adapting to the Finnish summer was not that difficult and, to be fair, last year we were very lucky, blessed by the hottest summer in 40 years or so.

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Therefore this week I was feeling ready to celebrate the “hot” (“warm”?) season with some proper baking but I was lacking of ideas. The second harvest of rhubarb in the garden still needs a bit of TLC, berries of course are not an option under my roof, so I was lacking ideas and I had to go through at least five of my favourite baking books to get inspired. Then I came across this recipe, or at least a version of it, and something clicked in my head. The lemon is arguably the most refreshing fruit and the polenta flour gives to the final result that intense yellow that one immediately identify with the sun. At that point the choice was made. I made a couple of changes to the recipe from Annie Bells’s Baking Bible but the core of the cake is there. And it is even gluten free, which does not make it automatically better than cakes with gluten (I find the whole madness around making gluten the source of all evil pretty senseless and annoying, but let’s leave this topic for another post!), but if you are coeliac or you are catering for somebody who is, that is actually an added value.

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I decided to serve it with some mascarpone pimped up with icing sugar and vanilla. If you too, like me, live with a poor soul who is convinced that mascarpone is cheese (It is not. I will repeat until death. Mascarpone is NOT a cheese. It is actually a far cousin of clotted cream) and shunts any type of food he considers so you can replace the mascarpone with whipped cream and make a Chantilly cream. I think that a fruit compote would go extremely well too, but this time I felt like something soft and moist rather than sticky and gooey.

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I apologise in advance for the picky remark but I have to make it to preserve my reputation with my fellow country men and women, especially the ones who are like me from Valtellina. To call this cake “Polenta cake” is conceptually a nonsense e for some people a heresy. Polenta is not the name of the flour but is a name of a very specific dish of northern Italy culinary tradition, especially in the mountain areas; it is a poor man food a staple dish that in the past, for many people, represented the main component of their diet and nowadays accompanies meat, fish, cheese and pretty much anything you like (ever tried cooled, sliced, grilled with jam? YUM) . It is a sort of “porridge”-like food that can be made in very different way depending on the geographic area, very soft or firm, with added cheese, butter, potatoes, cream, or milk and can be made with several types of flour. The sweet corn flour used in this recipe is probably the most commonly known around the world, but please, please, please, do not confuse the dish with the ingredient or the little mountain girl that still lives very deep inside of me will pour bitter tears. I hope that the poetic license I take by retaining the name “Polenta cake” will not disturb anyone, I looked for other possible names but all the options were even sillier.

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In any case the cake is delicious, it is very simple to make and I wish to all of you who will try to make it, to feel the same inner smile I feel when I see this warm yellow sun on a plate :).

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Have a good week!

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Recipe

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300gr caster sugar
5 eggs
270gr melted butter
150gr yellow fine sweet corn flour for polenta
170gr almond flour
50gr potato flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
Zest and juice of 4 lemons
Icing sugar to sprinkle on the cake and sweeten the lemon juice (to taste)

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Whisk at maximum speed the sugar eggs and lemon zest to get a firm soft and well aerated foamy mixture. While keep whisking add the melted butter.

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Weight and mix the three flours and the baking powder. With a silicon spatula fold them into the egg mixture taking care to not knock off too much air. Add the juice of 2 lemons and fold in until dissolved in the mixture.

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Bake at 170-180°C until golden brown (it will initially raise and then it will slightly collapse) or check with a stick that it is ready.

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Let it cool and pour on top the remaining lemon juice sweetened to a syrup with the icing sugar and just before serving sprinkle with a little more icing sugar.

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Serve it alone or with some whipped cream, ice cream, fruit compote etc…

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