Polenta and Chocolate Spice Cake

Polenta (fine cornmeal) is wonderful for GF baking. If you prefer chocolate today instead of citrus flavours, this recipe adapted from the ever-delightful Donal Skehan will be perfect for you.

I’ve spiced it up and scaled it up for a larger tin. There are also alternate topping suggestions if you don’t fancy the salted caramel (the photos show cocoa buttercream).

Serves: up to 24 depending on tin

Ingredients
For the cake:

  • 170g dark baking chocolate (anything above 50% cocoa solids)
  • 2 tsp instant coffee granules + 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 170g ground almonds
  • 115g polenta
  • 2 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg or mace
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom (approx. 5-7 whole green pods, seeds removed and heartily crushed)
  • 4 large eggs, separated (62-68g each when weighed in the shell) – see Eggs footnote
  • 225g soft light brown or light muscavado sugar (golden caster can substitute)
  • 250g unsalted butter, cubed and softened; plus additional to grease tin

For the salted caramel topping:

  • 115g butter
  • 170g soft dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 170ml (170g if weighing) double cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 – 1/4 tsp salt, to taste

Kit

  • A 9-10″ (23-24cm) diameter round, springform or loose-bottomed cake tin
    (this could also be made in a standard traybake tin 9x12″ / 23x30cm)
  • Baking/parchment paper
  • A saucepan which fits a medium bowl over
  • 2 large, 1 medium, and 2 small mixing bowls
  • A teacup or mug for the coffee
  • A mortar & pestle (if grinding whole cardamom seed)
  • An electric mixer (hand-held or stand)
  • Spatula and/or large metal spoon, for folding
  • Cooling rack
  • Manual whisk

Steps
Making the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C  (160 C fan-assisted). Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the tin and line the bottom with paper, ensuring it’s large enough to cover the join if using a round tin.
  2. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water – make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Dissolve the coffee in the boiling water and set aside to cool.
  4. Stir the ground almonds, polenta, baking powder, and spices in a small bowl with a fork.
  5. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, starting at low speed and gradually increasing to high speed as the colour and texture change.
  6. Beat the sugar and butter together until pale and fluffy (no need to clean the beaters from the whites). Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating at medium speed all the while until fully incorporated. Pour in the melted chocolate, and coffee mixture, and fold manually.
  7. Fold in the dry ingredients – it’ll help to add 1/3 of the egg whites to loosen the mixture. Add the rest of the whites, folding gently, until no white lumps or streaks remain.
  8. Dollop the batter into your prepared tin and smooth the top. 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. Turn out the cake after about 20 minutes.

Making the salted caramel:

  1. Bring the butter, sugar, and golden syrup to the boil on the hob in a small saucepan, whisking to ensure the sugar has fully dissolved.
  2. Add the cream, vanilla, and 1/8 tsp salt, and whisk until fully incorporated. Taste, and add a touch more salt if you like. Leave to simmer for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened and is quite sticky. (This will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.)
  3. Pour over the cooled cake before slicing; or, spoon over each individual serving.

Separating Eggs
I’ve used the ‘chiffon’ method to keep the cake as light as possible, because polenta cakes (especially those with ground almonds as well) can have a tendency to be a bit close-textured and solid. You don’t have to do this, and Donal’s original recipe doesn’t instruct that. You could keep the eggs whole and add them one at a time to the creamed butter/sugar mixture without folding in the whisked whites separately.

Alternate Topping Suggestions
Some people might not find a rich caramel topping (salted or not) to be to their taste. Try any of these alternatives, alone or mixed:

A) Whip 300ml double cream to stiff peaks, adding a few tablespoons of icing sugar until it’s at your preferred level of sweetness. Spread or pipe over the fully cooled cake.
Orange, cherry, coffee, or almond extract (1 tsp) are options to flavour the cream whilst whipping.
Or, add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder.
B) For a tangy contrast with the sweet cake, whisk 250g crème fraîche with 50ml double cream until you have a fluffy texture, and dollop onto each serving after slicing.
C) Grate or shave dark, milk, and/or white chocolate over the cooled cake. Or, sprinkle with chocolate chips when the cake is just out of the oven, so they can melt a little over the top.
D) Dust the fully cooled cake lightly with icing sugar.
E) Sprinkle some flaked almonds over.

The recipe pictures show whipped double cream with cocoa, and a light grating of dark chocolate with a dusting of icing sugar for garnish.

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