blood orange polenta cake

As you know I’m a bit of an Ottolenghi fan. His recipes always work and they’re packed full of flavour. I’ve had this recipe for orange polenta cake bookmarked ever since I took ownership of Ottolenghi, the Cookbook.

The recipe mentioned how nice the cake was made with blood oranges, so as soon as they appeared in the shop I bought a few then started looking through my cupboards for all the other ingredients. I didn’t have any orange blossom water but I thought I could safely leave that ingredient out. I went on the hunt for quick cook polenta without any luck. All I could find on the shelves was pre-cooked polenta and I was pretty sure that wouldn’t work in a cake. I had polenta flour in the cupboard leftover from these little cakes so I used that instead.

I used to make toffees all the time when I was growing up so the caramel section was a cinch. As they’re smaller than a regular orange, 2 blood oranges won’t cover an 8 inch cake tin so make sure to buy at least 3 oranges. As I wasn’t using orange blossom water I used a teaspoon of vanilla and some additional grated blood orange rind from the third orange.

The mixture was quite thick so I added ¼ cup of blood orange juice. I’m not sure if that was due to the polenta flour. The recipe makes a lot of batter and I’m wondering if it would work better in a 23 cm tin. It would certainly cook faster because despite the instructions to bake the cake at 170°C for 40 minutes, my cake took an hour to bake at 190°C in my old gas oven.

I’ve had a few disasters in the past when turning out upside down cakes, so I held my breath when turning this one out. It didn’t crack but next time I’d let it rest for a little while longer before turning it out just to reduce my stress levels a bit.

Once the cake cooled, I glazed it with some of that
homemade blood orange and vanilla marmalade I featured on last week’s blog. It looked pretty special. I served the cake with a dollop of sour lite cream or I guess you could use crème fraiche.

Here’s the original Ottolenghi recipe for you, very slightly adapted.

Blood Orange Polenta Cake, from Ottolenghi the Cookbook
Caramel topping
90g caster sugar
2 tbsp water
20g unsalted butter, diced
3 blood oranges

50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
200g unsalted butter
200 g caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange blossom water
240g ground almonds
120g quick-cook polenta

4 tbsp orange marmalade
1 tbsp water

1. Lightly grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment. If using a loose-based tin, make sure the paper circle you cut for the base is large enough to go some way up the sides as well, to prevent leaking.

2. To make the caramel, have ready by the stove small pastry brush and a cup of water. Put the sugar for the caramel topping in a heavy-based saucepan and add the water. Stir gently to wet the sugar through and then place on a low-medium heat. Slowly bring the sugar to the boil. While it bubbles away, brush the sides of the pan occasionally with a little of the water in the cup to get rid of any crystals that from close to the bubbling sugar. After a few minutes the water should evaporate and the sugar will start to darken. Be sure to keep your eyes on the sugar at all times as it can easily burn. As soon as it reaches a nice golden colour remove the pan from the heat. With your face at a safe distance, add the chunks of butter. Stir with a wooden spoon and pour the caramel over the lined base of the cake tin. Carefully but quickly (so it doesn't set) tilt it to spread evenly.

3. Grate the zest of the 2 oranges, making sure you don't reach the white part of the skin. Set the grated zest aside. Using a small, sharp knife, slice off 1 cm from the top and bottom of each orange. Standing each orange up on a board, carefully but neatly follow the natural curves of the orange with the knife to peel off the remaining skin and all the white pith. Cut each orange horizontally into roughly 6 slices. Remove the pips and lay out the slices tightly over the caramel. (You might need to peel and slice another orange to cover the whole space).

4. Now move on to the cake batter. Heat up the oven to 170°C/325°F. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

5. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together lightly. Make sure they are well combined but do not incorporate much air into the mixture. Gradually add the eggs while the machine is on a low speed. Next add the reserved orange zest and the orange blossom water, followed by the almonds, polenta and sifted dry ingredients. As soon as they are all mixed in, stop the machine.

6. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin, making sure that the oranges underneath stay in a single neat layer. Level the mixture carefully with a palette knife. Place the cake in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out dry. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes.

7. While the cake is still hot (warm it up a little if you forgot, otherwise the caramel will stick to the paper), place a cardboard disc or a flat plate on top. Briskly turn over and then remove the tin and the lining paper. Leave the cake to cool completely

8. For the glaze, bring the marmalade and water to the boil in a small saucepan and then pass through a sieve. While the glaze is still hot, lightly brush the top of the cake with it.

Jillian’s adaptations
I used polenta flour instead of quick cook polenta and added ¼ cup blood orange juice.

I didn’t have any orange blossom water so I used the zest of 2½ blood oranges plus 1 tsp vanilla instead.

You really need 3 blood oranges for this recipe.

I baked the cake at 190°C and it took 1 hour to cook. I’d also cool the cake for about 10 minutes next time – I was a bit worried the cake might break into pieces.

I think the cake would work just as well baked in a 23 cm tin with 50% extra caramel and more oranges for the topping.

The cake is really moist, quite dense, intensely orange flavoured and absolutely delicious. I’m wondering whether I’d be able to renovate this recipe for Passover using regular oranges as blood oranges will be out of season. Watch this space.

See you all again next week with another blood orange creation.

Bye for now,



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