Upside-down peach, almond and polenta cake
One of the interesting things about food and eating is how throughout your life your tastes can morph. I spent most of my life blissfully on the fence about the idea of cake. There were some delicious ones of course, but my cravings generally veered towards the savoury, so cake was never high on my list.
This all changed, however, when a friend and I were setting up a business together. Inevitably in among the paperwork of the day he would declare it was time for an afternoon cup of tea and piece of cake and, very quickly, I became addicted. I now love cake wholeheartedly and unbiasedly, whether big and fluffy, delicate, dense, fruity or chocolatey.
Another intriguing thing with food is how you ever actually decide what to cook. The options are infinite and without any boundaries it can be impossible to even imagine what to do. This is why I prefer to cook from necessity. I enjoy being presented with a challenge or a set of ingredients and then seeing what I can do, adapting to circumstances and season. Which is how this recipe came about.
I was in Melbourne recently to celebrate my nana’s 101st birthday, an achievement both in that she is still in very fine form and in that we managed to gather a group of humans without any of us succumbing to the spicy cough. It was to be a relaxed weekend with various get-togethers and no fuss, but of course there was the inevitable back and forth about food, who was to cook and what, and also consideration of dietary requirements and likes and dislikes.
A plan was in place until I awoke on the morn of the final lunch to the last-minute decision that we needed cake. It had been foolish to think we could have a birthday without it, and we needed two as there were more of us than would be satisfied with one.
My task was set. I scrolled the internet for a simple recipe, something flourless that I could adapt, and then went hunting in the garden. There was a bounty and I gathered rosemary, thyme, rhubarb and plums. Soon after there was cake, lovely with ice-cream after a delightful long lunch in the garden under the trees. I liked the recipe enough to want to try it again, a little differently though.
So here it is, a flourless cake with almond meal, polenta and lots of lemon. It has texture from the polenta and bakes to give a slightly fudgy middle.
I have used peaches, as now is their moment to shine, and there is thyme, as I love herbs in my sweets. It’s simple, easy and rich with fruit. And it’s particularly fine in the afternoon with a cup of tea.
Time: 45 minutes preparation + 40 minutes cooking time
- 9 peaches
- 1 tsp thyme leaves
- 80g rapadura sugar
- salt flakes
- 150g castor sugar
- 150g butter, diced and softened to room temperature
- 1 vanilla pod, scraped
- 2 medium lemons, finely zested and juiced (hopefully you will have about 80 millilitres of juice)
- salt and ground white pepper
- 5 eggs, separated
- 150g polenta, blitzed in a blender until it’s slightly broken down
- 200g almond meal
- 1 tsp baking powder
- cream, for serving
- Line the base of a 28-centimetre springform tin and set aside.
- Peel your peaches, cut them in half, remove the stones, and place them cut-side up on a baking tray. Sprinkle over the thyme and half the rapadura sugar, season with salt flakes and place the peaches under a hot grill. Cook until the sugar starts to dissolve and darken, and the peaches have softened ever so slightly (about six to seven minutes). Remove the tray and set aside.
- Place your lined cake tin on a baking tray and evenly spoon the remaining rapadura sugar along the base. Pop this under the grill for a couple of minutes until it starts to melt. Remove the tray from the oven and, once the peach halves are cool enough to touch, lie them face-side down over the sugar, to cover the base of the tin. Set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 160°C fan-forced.
- In a large mixing bowl combine the castor sugar, butter, vanilla, lemon zest and a very generous pinch of salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix vigorously until the mixture creams. Alternatively, use an electric mixer. Once the mixture looks pale and fluffy, add in a yolk, mix to fully incorporate, and continue until all the yolks are mixed in.
- Pour in the lemon juice and fold through to combine. It may look like it has split a little but don’t worry.
- In a separate mixing bowl, combine the polenta, almond meal and baking powder, stir, and then fold this through the creamed mix. As you do this the mix will become more uniform.
- Whisk the egg whites to a glossy medium peak and, in a couple of batches, fold about two-thirds through the cake batter until well combined. There’s no need to be too gentle here.
- Scrape the cake batter over the peaches and use your spoon or spatula to press down the mix. With damp hands, take the remaining whites and pat them over the top of the cake. This will cook to form a delicate crust.
- Place the cake tin into the oven and bake until a skewer poked into the cake comes out clean (about 40 to 50 minutes).
- Remove the tin from the oven and allow it to cool. Once the cake is cool enough to handle, remove the outside of the tin and then use a plate to flip the cake so the peaches are on top. Serve with some lightly whipped cream.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 12, 2022 as "Everything’s upside-down ".
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