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Whole Orange Polenta Cake


Pastries in India are one of the lovely consequences of the British colonialism. To date, I do believe that the average bakery in India makes fluffier, softer and divine-r cakes than most here in the US. I have come to realize it has something to do with the texture of the flour, as much as, the amount of sugar and sweeteners added. 

The fineness of the flour is crucial for a soft cake. Despite the fact that the AP flour here feel well ground, when you compare with the 00 European grind of the average maida (AP flour as it is called in India), you can feel the difference when you rub them between your fingers. Maida is almost starchy in texture even though it is made from the same kernel. Perhaps the wheat is different? This difference I have also seen in whole wheat flour. American whole wheat is a lot coarser than the similar we use that goes by "Atta" and used to make rotis and other non-yeast flat breads. Perhaps the mills are different? I have yet to actually bake with maida or atta, although after this musing, I think that's next on the list... just as soon as I get to the Indian store.

My point of that starting ramble was to introduce the cake for today, which, is made with a much coarser flour, corn, and yet delivers a wonderful crumb. Because, this cake is all about crumbs rather than sponginess. 

When you think of pastry, you immediately think French with their elaborate and technical creations or even perhaps Britain and the surrounding region for luscious tea cakes. These are perfectly elegant creations that are a good nod to 'patisserie'. Yet, they are not your everyday cakes. These take time, persnickety detail and on the whole a lot of patience (if you have ever tried perfectly icing a cake, you'll know!). In contrast, living in Italy, showed me how simplicity was so much more accessible and just as satisfying. Their sweet creations were hardly technical accomplishments but they had a certain earthiness that was alluring and then when the flavor hits you, there is little complaint you can offer up! Perhaps, indeed, what they shy away from 'pretty' they abundantly make up in the oomph of taste. And, afterall that is the ultimate taste of food -

would you eat something pretty or something tasty, again and again? :)


A Slightly-Italian


Orange Cake


This cake is made using one of those Italian staples, Polenta. Their particular version of this yellow corn flour is extraordinarily finely ground, with more of a nut meal like texture than the grits we easily find in the States. This is what lends the corn flour to their delightful use in pastries. And, you can imagine it is much cheaper than fine ground flour. After all, polenta is an everyday savory staple and its use in sweet creations is an accessible extension, especially in the heartland of Tuscany that while beautiful is a harsh agrarian land!

Orange Cake

{Gluten free with Polenta and Almond Flour}

I actually did not have the fine ground Italian polenta on hand. So, I improvised using yellow grits that I blasted through the Vitamix to make a super fine flour. If you go to an Italian store, look for 'fine polenta'. Also, this is the version, best suited for the eponymous dish as the Italian corn flour has a superior flavor the American flours. A close substitute would be Mexican/South American/Arepa flour.


1 cup finely ground corn flour, polenta (or masa)

1-1/2 cups almond meal or fresh ground (Also fine)

1 cup  sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 plump navel orange

3 large eggs

10 T butter, softened + a litte for the pan

Pinch of sea salt

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Wash/scrub the orange thoroughly, place it in a saucepan and cover it with cold water.

Set it over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for about one hour, or until the citrus is tender all the way through. Stick a toothpick to test doneness. It should easily go through.

Add water if the level drops too much – the fruit should be bobbing in plenty of liquid at all times. {It is hard to over cook it but don't forget the fruit for hours!}

Drain and purée flesh and skin in a blender until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 375F and butter and prep a 8 inch cake mold.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar until airy and pale yellow (about 7 minutes). Add the puréed fruit and fold through.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Fold the butter and work it into the dry mix to get a mealy texture. 

Add the wet to the dry and fold to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and level the surface. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Remove the cake and let it to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. Transfer it to a rack to cool completely.

Dust the surface with powdered sugar before serving.


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