Citrus and Polenta Cake

The inspiration was John Torode‘s recipe, but I skipped the toasting/grinding of whole almonds in favour of shop-bought ground almonds.

This is a gluten-free and dairy-free delight which I’ve spiced up. I also substituted a spiced, citrussy icing and zesty garnish for the original syrup. (If you’d prefer syrup, though, see the footnote.)

Serves: up to 16


For the cake:

  • 2 large oranges
    1 whole; 1 juiced with pulp, and zest grated in strips (reserve zest for garnish)
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
    1 whole; 1 juiced with pulp, and finely grated zest (reserve zest for icing)
  • Water, to cover fruit for boiling
  • 4 large eggs (they should total 250g – 260g when weighed in their shells)
  • 170g golden caster sugar
  • 120g ground almonds
  • 80ml (75g if weighing) extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for greasing tin
  • 150g polenta (finely-ground cornmeal)
  • 3 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves

For the icing and garnish:

  • Zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon (see Cake Ingredients)
  • 1 large orange, juiced, and zest grated in strips
  • 300g icing sugar (weigh before sifting)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • White caster sugar, a large pinch or two


  • A 9″ (23cm) diameter round, springform cake tin
  • Baking/parchment paper, or greaseproof
  • A large, heavy-bottomed saucepan with lid
  • Food processor, or heavy-duty blender
  • 1 large, 1 medium, and 1 small mixing bowls
  • An electric mixer (hand-held or stand)
  • Spatula or large spoon, for folding
  • Cooling rack
  • Oven-safe plate
  • Sieve

Making the Cake:

  1. Roll the whole orange and lemon over the countertop under your palms, until softened. Place both in the saucepan and cover with water to at least 2 inches above. Cut a circle of paper to fit the pot and place over the water, then put on the lid. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to very low – ideally, move the pot to the smallest ring on the lowest setting – and simmer for 40 minutes. (The paper circle will help to keep the fruit submerged whilst simmering).
  2. Preheat oven to 180 C  (160 C fan-assisted). Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the tin with oil and cover the bottom with paper, ensuring the circle is large enough to cover the join of the ring. Very lightly grease the top of the paper.
  3. Carefully remove the boiled orange and lemon from the pot, slice each into quarters, and remove all seeds. Slice each quartered fruit 3 times, then add the boiled fruit pieces – peel ‘n all – with the orange & lemon juice and pulp to a food processor, or heavy-duty blender. Whizz until it’s completely, thoroughly combined, no pieces of peel are evident, and it’s very thick. (See footnote for alternate prep method.)
  4. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until foamy. Add the whizzed fruit, almonds, and oil, and continue whisking at medium-high speed until fully combined, about 2 minutes.
  5. In a small bowl, mix the polenta, baking powder, and spices together with a fork. Add this to the wet ingredients, and fold gently until fully combined.
  6. Pour the batter into your prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes, turning the tin halfway through for even baking. When a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, remove from the oven to a cooling rack. Unclip the ring and slide off the tin’s base after about 20 minutes – this will help the cake cool faster.

Making the Icing and Garnish:

  1. When the cake has baked, turn the oven off. Spread the orange zest (from both Cake Ingredients and Icing Ingredients) on an oven-safe plate, breaking up any clumps, and leave in the oven – door ajar – to dry out as the oven cools.
  2. Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl, and manually stir in the lemon zest (from Cake Ingredients), vanilla, spices, and 3 tablespoons of the orange juice, quite vigourously, until smooth. Use your own judgment on how thick/thin you want it – add 1 Tbsp or more orange juice to make it looser. Place the icing bowl in the fridge until the cake has cooled.
  3. When the cake has fully cooled, remove the paper, and transfer the cake to a serving plate/platter. Give the icing a really good stir, and pour/spread the icing over the cake. (If the cake is even slightly warm, the icing will melt and thin out.)
  4. Add a large pinch or two of caster sugar to the dried orange zest, and mix with your fingers until all strands are fully coated. Sprinkle over the cake to garnish. Put the cake in the fridge until ready to serve.

Alternate Preparation Method
If you prefer, you can prepare, boil, and whizz the fruit the night before. If you do this, place the whizzed paste and the orange & lemon zests into 3 separate sealed containers, and refrigerate overnight. Take out of the fridge the next morning and let them come up to room temperature whilst the oven is pre-heating.

Syrup Option
Whilst the cake is baking, heat the juice of 3 large oranges with 75g caster sugar and the lemon zest (from Cake Ingredients) to the boil on the hob in a small saucepan. Reduce the heat to the very lowest setting, and keep stirring until the mixture thickens into syrup. (You can let this cool, then re-heat when the cake is almost baked.)

Treat this like lemon drizzle, i.e., when the cake is out of the oven, poke it deeply all over with a skewer, and pour the syrup over the top so it soaks in. If doing this, I’d still dry the remaining orange zest in the oven as it cools, and coat it with caster sugar, and use as a topping – for visual wow, and extra citrus flavour.


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