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Strawberry, citrus and pistachio polenta cake (gluten free)

I was always taught, by cookbooks and various culinary TV shows, never to cook a strawberry. You should never freeze them either; something about their high water content means they turn to unpalatable mush in either scenario. Once, in a mood of reckless impetuosity, I scattered a few strawberries over the top of a cake I was making (to accompany more oven-friendly berries like blueberries, raspberries and blackcurrants), curious to see if this wisdom was in fact correct.

Although they are a very different beast to the plump, glossy, bouncy fresh berries you buy in punnets, strawberries folded into a cake batter are a lovely thing in their own right. True, they do collapse rather a lot, but they also emit some gorgeously sweet, sticky, irresistibly strawberry-y juice, so much more powerfully flavoured than the raw berries. This, mingled with a buttery cake crumb, is very pleasant.

This is a gigantic hulk of a cake. It’s full of deliciously substantial goodness in the form of polenta and ground almonds, meaning it’s gluten free. It’s enriched with the tang of oranges and lemons, given a deep flavour with orange peel powder. This works beautifully with the sweetness of strawberries, juicily strewn throughout the gorgeously moist, buttery cake crumb. A sprinkle of toasted pistachios on top gives a texture contrast, and a beautiful earthy flavour to complement the zingy orange and sweet berries. It’s very satisfying and moreish, a great complement to an afternoon cup of tea or a luscious dessert with some vanilla ice cream.

Go on, cook a strawberry. I dare you.

Instructions

  • First, put the strawberries in a bowl and toss with the lemon juice and caster sugar. Set aside. Pre-heat the oven to 160C. Grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin.

  • In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on a high speed until thick and creamy. Add the almonds and orange extract and powder, then beat for a couple more minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each, then fold in the baking powder, lemon juice and zest, polenta and salt.

  • Pour into the prepared tin. Scatter the strawberries over the top, followed by the pistachios. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until the cake is firm with only the slightest wobble. Allow to cool in the tin then remove and serve.

Recipe and photographs courtesy of Elly McCausland, Nutmegs seven

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