Naughty & Nice: Anees’s Almond, Orange, Polenta Cake

I’m a believer in keeping things balanced. A sprinkle of seeds and nuts on cheese toast. Tons of vegetables with  lasagna. Lots of fruit with a scoop of ice cream. You get the drift right? This cake is like that. It’s not vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, joy-free, fun-free. It’s healthy as it’s made with polenta and ground almonds, but a bit naughty too because of a bit of butter, flour and sugar. The recipe is from my friend Anees Saigal, who’s really the best cook I know (trust me, I’m surrounded by many great cooks, including myself…ahem). Anyway, try this recipe to make your soul sing. After all, beauty is all about what fills your heart with joy.

Words by Anees:

A note on the cake pan: you can use a regular 8-by-2-inch round cake pan or glass dish, or even a square baking dish. I like to use a square fluted glass dish. This is a pretty cake decorated with almond slices, and bear in mind that it will be inverted when you remove it from the pan. Make sure to keep the temperature low and remove the cake from the oven as soon as it’s done, so that it doesn’t dry out. The texture should be moist and crumbly, and the taste rich, nutty, and not too sweet, with a fragrance of oranges, almond and vanilla.

1/4 cup almonds, sliced lengthwise
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, finely ground
1/2 cup polenta
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, melted, for pan
1 cup ground sugar (white or brown)
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4teaspoon almond extract


Preheat oven to 325°F.

Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a small baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the ground almonds, polenta, flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer, and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in the orange juice and the almond and vanilla extracts. Add the dry ingredients, beating on low until just combined. Don’t overbeat.

Pour the melted butter into the cake pan or baking dish, making sure to coat the bottom and brushing up the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the toasted sliced almonds over the bottom of the dish. Pour the batter into prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula.

Check that the oven temperature has remained low at 325°F. Bake for 40—45 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Make sure not to over-bake: remove immediately from the oven to retain the cake’s moisture.

Transfer the baking pan to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cake from the pan, inverting it so that the sliced almonds are on top. Let it cool completely before cutting into it.

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