Orange and Polenta Cake



Another birthday and another cake is called for in order to celebrate in style. In the winter months, it is the orange that is the most delicious fruit of all.  I have so many recipes for orange cakes, each of them slightly different. This recipe combines my three favourite features of my many recipes, namely: polenta and ground almonds rather than flour, a whole orange, pureed, rather than just the zest and the peel, and finally the use of a heritage bundt tin. I truly love my heritage bundt tin, but it’s a risky business using it. I can never be entirely sure whether the cake will actually come out in one piece. The best advice I was given on how to avoid the dangers of the bundt tin was by Helen Goh, co- author of the Ottolenghi book Sweet, and that was to use room temperature butter, not melted, to liberally grease the tin and then dust it with flour. I followed this advice and most of it came out! The cake was a huge hit, it was full of flavour, looked great and brought a smile to the face of the birthday boy.


Butter (room temperature) for greasing

8 green cardamom pods

225g ground almonds

100g polenta (extra for dusting the tin)

1 heaped tsp baking powder

225g butter, softened

225g caster sugar

3 large eggs

1 whole orange (Boiled for 1 hour, then blended)

1 tsp vanilla extract


Juice of 2 oranges

3 teaspoons of honey

3 teaspoons rose water


50g chopped pistachios

Orange zest

2 tablespoons of icing sugar

A few drops of rose water


  1. Put the whole orange in a saucepan half filled with water. Boil for an hour or until a sharp knife will go through the orange easily. Be careful not to let the water boil away!
  2. When the orange is soft, allow it to cool then roughly chop in to pieces. Remove the pips and blend into a puree. Set aside.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas mark 4. Grease the bundt tin with butter at room temperature. Dust with the polenta.
  4. Take the seeds out of the cardamom pods and crush with a pestle and mortar. In a bowl, add the cardamom together with the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder.
  5. Beat the sugar and butter together in a bowl until the mixture is light and pale. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Tip the bowl of dry ingredients into this mixture and fold with a spatula until combined. Add the orange puree and the vanilla extract and fold through.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place it in the middle shelf of the oven and bake 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Prepare the syrup by placing all the ingredients into a small saucepan over a medium heat and bring to a steady simmer.
  8. Pierce holes all over the cake with a skewer while the cake is cooling and pour over the syrup a little at a time, until the cake soaks it up.
  9. Mix the icing sugar and the rose water to make the icing sugar. Put it in a piping bag and pipe it along the grooves. This helps the pistachios and orange zest to stick and it also helps to hide any imperfections in the cake!
  10. Sprinkle the chopped pistachio in alternate grooves of the cake and in the others sprinkle the orange zest (I like to use longer strands of orange zest).IMG_1138 - Copy

Rose and Pistachio Cake

Rose and Pistachio cake 5

I’ve been very selective about my baking of late, so only the most exceptional recipes are under consideration, so it’s lucky that I bought Ottolenghi’s book, Sweet. This Rose and Pistachio cake was made for a very special 50th birthday. I’m a huge fan of polenta cakes. This one uses both polenta and ground almonds making it the perfect vehicle for the rose and lemon syrup which soaks the warm cake. The result is a beautifully moist and flavoursome cake. I was expecting a stronger rose flavour, so next time I would swap the quantities of lemon juice and rose water in the syrup. The crystallised rose petals on top are easy to make and can be baked in the oven while you are preparing the cake mixture. I think they are worth the effort as they give the cake that little bit of pizazz.

Rose and Pistachio cake 3


3 cardamom pods

150g shelled pistachio kernels, plus an extra 20g, finely chopped, to serve

100g ground almonds

170g fine semolina

1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

300g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed, plus extra for greasing

330g caster sugar

4 large eggs, lightly whisked

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (1 tsp), plus 1 tbsp lemon juice


100ml lemon juice

80ml rose water

100g caster sugar

Crystallised Rose Petals (if using)

1 large egg white

10g pesticide-free red or pink rose petals (about 40 medium rose petals)

25g caster sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 100°C/80°C Fan/Gas Mark ¼. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and grease a 23cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.

2. To crystallise the rose petals, if using, whisk the egg white by hand until frothy, then, using a small pastry brush or paintbrush, very lightly paint over both sides of each petal with the egg white: do this in two or three small batches, brushing and then sprinkling lightly over both sides with the sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and lay the petals on the lined baking tray. Place in the oven for 30 minutes, until dry and crunchy, then set aside to cool.

3. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4.

4. Use the flat side of a large knife to crush the cardamom pods and place the seeds in the small bowl of a food processor: you’ll have just under ¼ teaspoon of seeds. The pods can be discarded. Add the pistachios and blitz until the nuts are finely ground – the black cardamom seeds won’t really grind down – then transfer to a bowl. Add the ground almonds, semolina, baking powder and salt. Mix together and set aside.

5. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on a medium-high speed until fully combined but take care not to over-work: you don’t want to incorporate a lot of air into the mix. With the machine still running, slowly add the eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times and making sure that each batch is fully incorporated before adding the next. The mix will curdle once the eggs are added, but don’t worry: this will not affect the end result.

6. Remove the bowl from the machine and add the dry ingredients, folding them in by hand and again, taking care not to over-mix. Next fold in the lemon zest, juice, rose water and vanilla and scrape the batter into the tin. Level with a palette knife and bake for about 55–60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean but oily.

7. Start to make the syrup about 10 minutes before the cake comes out of the oven: you want it to be warm when the cake is ready. Place all the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring so that the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat: don’t worry that the consistency is thinner than you might expect, this is how it should be.

8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, drizzle all of the syrup over the top. It is a lot of syrup, but don’t lose your nerve: the cake can take it! Sprinkle over the finely chopped pistachios and set the cake aside in its tin to come to room temperature. Remove from the tin and scatter the rose petals over the cake. Serve with a generous spoonful of cream alongside.

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